It's going to take a lot for any horror fan to forget 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn to accept the El Rey Network's first original television series, the aptly titled From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. Forgetting that film is not an easy thing to do. And it doesn't help that the series premiere – which screened to SXSW audiences in anticipation of its March 11th bow – consistently recalls dialogue heard in the film and even calls on some of its actors to deliver their lines with similar inflections to those uttered by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. In spite of this, episode 1 is entertaining enough if you throw some good will its way, but this echo of the '96 film is seriously lacking the energy of its predecessor and will need to be a bit more inventive to hold the attention of any genre fan. Those not familiar with the source film it will likely enjoy the tapestry of characters and the larger mystery the premiere hints at.
As the entire season is to be told from dusk till dawn, episode 1 takes place during the daylight hours with the introduction of the Gecko brothers, Seth and Richie, at Benny's World of Liquors – two thieves on the lam. The entire episode is the first 10 minutes of the film…drawn out to an hour. We meet Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (Don Johnson smoothly taking over for Michael Parks) and his encounter with Benny the clerk, two female customers and, of course, the Geckos. The new factor here is McGraw's partner, Ranger Freddie Gonzalez.
If you know the film, you know what happens. If you don't, then I'll refrain from dropping any spoilers, but when McGraw and Gonzalez meet the Geckos, things get messy.
The narrative construction of episode 1 asks it to bounce between the past and present, throwing more backstory on McGraw and Gonzalez's friendship. And Rodriguez deftly handles this juggling act, but it kills the momentum of the escalating events at Benny's World of Liquors. D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz as Seth and Richie have a very good chemistry, volleying their fun banter with ease. The problem is that they're not making the characters their own. Cotrona is doing Seth by way of George Clooney. Holtz, on the other hand, has a little bit more success as Richie. His character is presented with new layers as well. He's clearly nuts, but now he can see things (cue vampires in disguise) as well.
What's missing from all of this is urgency and excitement. I get that every first episode of a new series needs to find its legs so it can set things up, I'm just hoping the entire season isn't so desperately reliant on flashbacks to pad the material.
It's difficult to review something like this because of the show's nature – essentially it's a remake peppered with new variations and what feel like "alternate takes" – so I'm trying to look at it as a fan of the original film and with fresh eyes. What interests me is the exploration of Richie's connection to the supernatural events that will unfold and how Carlos factors into it all – he's a much larger character this time, played by Wilmer Valderama (Cheech Marin in the original film), with a bigger agenda, apparently.
Not nearly as successful as small screen reinventions like Hannibal or Bates Motel, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series clings too tightly to the source material and, as a result, becomes a mediocre effort. I'll give this one – like all shows – 2 or 3 more episodes to find its voice. If my interest wanes, I'll simply drive a stake through it and revisit the original film like I often do.