From Dusk Till Dawn - The Series: TV Review

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series poster
So far, Robert Rodriguez's reimagined supernatural story is a mixed bag, dragging its heels on the action, yet visually interesting and peppered with twisted humor.

The violent Gecko brothers return in Robert Rodriguez's expanded story, based on the 1996 film he directed and co-wrote with Quentin Tarantino.

Like the fulfillment of a prophesy, 18 years after the debut of his cult horror film From Dusk Till Dawn, writer-director-producer Robert Rodriguez has revived the storyline for a series based on its original characters and concepts. From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will air on the El Rey network, an English-language channel geared toward Latino audiences that Rodriguez created in partnership with Univision. So far, the series is the network's marquee program, though there are other projects from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman as well as Mark Burnett slated to debut later this year.

El Rey is surely hoping to create some momentum for itself with this new series, whose story now, almost two decades later, finds itself in a very different entertainment landscape, where violent, supernatural TV series are essentially the norm. Besides the draw of Rodriguez's involvement, and a potential interest and nostalgia for some regarding the original film (the straight-to-video releases shall go unmentioned), the challenge will be for From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series to establish itself on an unfamiliar channel in the midst of so many other genre shows. 

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As of the pilot, it seems the series might have some trouble distinguishing itself from the original film, though spread out over 10 episodes, it does promise to take the concepts deeper. Once again, the plot follows the violent Gecko brothers, a bank-robbing duo made up of smooth-talking Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and psychotic Richie (Zane Holtz). After leaving a trail of blood in the wake of their latest heist, the brothers find themselves holed up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, along with Texas Sheriff Earl McGraw (Don Johnson) and Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), as well as a clerk and two young women whom Richie has taken hostage.

Things get violent quickly, and the standoff lasts for the better part of the premiere. Though the timeline shifts between the present and the events leading up to it, the action (and the talking, so much talking) is confined to Benny's World of Liquor (with its helpful reminder of a sign: "Still here!"). The brothers Gecko are on their way to Mexico to meet up with the mysterious Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama), who promises to help them escape to freedom. But things continue to spin out of control at the liquor store, and the premiere concludes with the story in Gonzalez's hands, as a tale of vengeance. "Even if you have to follow them to the gates of hell, kill 'em for me," he's asked. "I swear on my daughter, I will," he obeys, eyes narrowed toward the dusty trail that leads to a bar on the border.

There are certain aspects that make the pilot promising. It was written and directed by Rodriguez (directors such as Eduardo Sanchez and Joe Menendez are slated to helm upcoming episodes, with Rodriguez also returning), though as a 40-minute expansion on the first 10 minutes of the original film, the action can seem needlessly drawn out and played for time rather than for narrative sense. But the occasionally snappy dialogue ("Say anything else that sounds like a code, and you'll become a noun without a goddamn verb"), twisted humor and cinematic direction -- all Rodriguez hallmarks -- bode well for the rest of the series. An expansion of the Aztec mythology, hinted at through the Carlos storyline as well as a gruesome cold open, also suggests a deeper exploration of the more supernatural elements, which are embodied in Richie's "visions." (It's unclear yet whether he's manufacturing them in his mind or being tormented by an external force).

Assuming the first season follows the model set up by the original film, there's plenty for the next nine episodes to explore. It seems that From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series could be, like the film, a very mixed bag. Even the Geckos themselves are a wash: Cotrona's George Clooney impersonation is distracting (and doesn't hit its mark), while Holtz's new conception of Richie is one of a well-crafted creep. But the real standout of the first hour is Johnson's Sheriff McGraw, a grizzled and confident man whose monologues about the loneliness and consuming nature of the job are evocative of True Detective's morose philosopher-lawman Rust Cohle. The ultimate wisdom of pulling this story back out of the vault, though, remains to be seen.