CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I really want to like A&E's "Bates Motel." When I first heard about it, I had the highest hopes for it of any new show this spring.
Unfortunately, it gets off to a less than stellar start.
The pilot, airing at 10 p.m. Monday, opens with a tragedy that serves as the impetus for Norman (Freddie Highmore, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") and his mom, Norma (Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"), to move to a costal town and to what will become the Bates Motel.
It's filmed a little strangely, with Norman stumbling around a seemingly empty house as if drugged while ominous music plays in the background. I guess it's trying to be suspenseful and hook you, but I found it odd and puzzling.
That all takes place within the first six minutes, which you can watch online if you're so inclined. That leaves 41 minutes in the episode, which is not a lot of time for everything that's going on, from character introductions to a major plot point. (Said point includes an intense encounter that may be disturbing to some viewers.)
There are several teases thrown out that I think are meant to tantalize but sometimes just confuse, and some things I think are intended to be creepy but are just strange and/or dumb.
Plus, some character introductions are so brief you wonder why they're even included. For instance, Emma (Olivia Cooke) is likely going to be an important character, but her one scene in the pilot really serves no other purpose than to say, "This is who I am!"
It doesn't feel like the actors are quite settled into their parts, either. Highmore, who looks perfect as a sad sack teenage Norman, lets his British accent slip through occasionally, and Farmiga's "Mother" (yes, that's what Norman calls her) is all over the place -- from fierce to jovial to domineering to vacant to angry to vulnerable to petulant. Obviously, you want dynamic characters in a show; it's just a lot of emotion in a little amount of time here.
Also, I get that the bond between them is crucial, but it was delivered far too heavy-handedly here. I hope that was just for the sake of setting things up because if not and it's kept up, it's so blatant it may become laughable.
This is being called a "contemporary prequel," and as such will only have loose ties to the 1960 film. Basically, it extrapolates the creepy Norman-Mother relationship and uses it as the foundation on which to build more creepy stories.
Even though the pilot didn't wow me, I still have high hopes for the show. The teasers and promo posters are dark and twisted, and it's got a good pedigree behind the camera in addition to the talent in front of it. (Executive producers are Carlton Cuse of "Lost" and Kerry Ehrin of "Friday Night Lights.")