PLOT: “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” is centered around bank robber, Seth Gecko and his violent, unpredictable brother, Richie Gecko, who are wanted by the FBI and Texas Rangers Earl McGraw and Freddie Gonzalez after a bank heist leaves several people dead.
REVIEW: It seemed an odd idea initially, the retooling of a 108 minute film into a 10 hour television series, but Robert Rodriguez has, at least with the first episode, piqued my curiosity with "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series." The episode is at once something of an homage to the film's famous first sequence and a radical re-imagining of it, with crucial new details sprinkled in as well as a few new characters. It remains to be seen if Rodriguez can pull off the movie-to-series transition overall, but for now he's done a very proficient job of making a skeptic into a believer.
The entire first episode is a different spin on the liquor store sequence at the front of the film, bringing new perspective and angles to the memorable introduction of the Gecko brothers and ranger Earl McGraw. In the original, the sequence runs less than ten minutes, with the Geckos blowing McGraw and unfortunate clerk Benny away before hightailing it, leaving the place in ruins. Here, things go even less according to plan for our bank robbers.
Rodriguez utilizes a fractured structure to depict the bloody events within the liquor store, though at first it looks as though it'll play out the same way as the film. Texas ranger McGraw (Don Johnson), who is now teamed up with a partner Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), is rankled by the news that two criminal brothers have just massacred a slew of cops during a botched robbery. After going to Benny's World of Liquor for some hooch, Earl is almost immediately gunned down by psychotic Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), which severely perturbs the more professional of the siblings, Seth (D.J. Cotrona), who just wants to get to Mexico without attracting any attention.
But Earl is still alive here, shot in the chest and able to watch the rest of the events unfold, which marks the first major change for the show. We then flash back to the day's previous events, as Earl and his partner discuss baptizing the latter's baby. The partner too gets a flashback of his own, which depicts a conversation with his wife about Earl and illustrates the younger man's affection for his mentor. This adds some depth to the characters, while also signaling Freddie will be a major player going forward in the show.
The Geckos find themselves in a stand-off with the young deputy; Seth has to figure out a way to get out of the bind without killing the female hostages they've taken, while also making sure Richie doesn't go too far off the deep end. Seth reaches out to Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama, quite different from Cheech Marin in the film), the boys' shady contact in Mexico, in order to secure a rescue, but Carlos appears to be occupied by some strange business involving Mayan ruins (perhaps hinting at the temple we see at the film's end).
The dynamic of the Gecko brothers plays out pretty much the same as it does early in the film; Seth is burdened by his younger brother's insane impulses yet has to muster up all his cool to keep them both on point. Cotrona is indeed doing a bit of a George Clooney impersonation, with the deliberate line delivery and even a bit of that old Clooney head-wagging, but he's certainly an appealing screen presence and the performance is solid and commanding. Holtz, as Richie, is a bit more of a menacing presence physically than Quentin Tarantino in the film, and absolutely exudes an evil aura. I think he's maybe a bit too good-looking for the part - Tarantino's weird features complimented Richie's high-strung evil in a vivid way - but he definitely sells the idea that Richie is a maniac seeking out any reason he can to shed blood.
Interestingly, the supernatural element that comes later in the film at the Titty Twister is introduced here, with Richie having odd visions of vampire monsters and even Satanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez) herself, who is seen briefly in a prologue set in Mexico. I assume it's because the show needs to tease that angle and fulfill its promise of being a horror series early on. This is a major change from the film, obviously, and it's an intriguing addition. Will it pay off is the question.
By the end of the first episode, I found that the 48 minutes had gone by rather quickly, leaving me satisfied and anticipating more. It seems clear that the series will follow the basic structure of the film, at least to a point, while adding new ingredients and viewpoints. Rodriguez is doing this the right way, bringing a new dimension to what is basically an extended remake while keeping the thing true to its roots. (Fans of the film will have fun picking up on the various, subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original.) There are still nine episodes to go, obviously, but consider me sold right now. Let's get ramblin'!