I’ll just come right out and say it: when it was announced that Robert Rodriguez was planning on turning his film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN into a TV series for his new El Rey cable network, I was about as excited for it as I would be for someone to shoot me in the gut and leave me bleeding to death. While I am an HUGE fan of the first few Rodriguez films, I just haven’t enjoyed much of his recent efforts whatsoever. So, when the El Rey network sent me the first five episodes, I binge-watched them all and imagine my surprise when not only where they decent, but actually GOOD…strike that, REALLY GOOD. So if you feel so inclined, read on!
*Note: these reviews will contain a lot of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched each episode yet, you might want to do that first, before reading.*
EPISODE ONE: “Pilot”
While fans of the film that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: the series is based on might assume that every element of the film will be transplanted into the show, Rodriguez (who tackles the pilot himself) does what any good film to TV adaption should do: throw what fans would expect out of the window and give it a fresh take. From the moment that Texas Ranger Earl McGraw (an amazing Don Johnson) walks into Benny’s Liquor store, anyone who is familiar with the film already knows that he isn’t going to walk out alive, but instead of making it a carbon copy of the film, the character is fleshed out so well by that moment, that it packs more of a punch when the Gecko brothers dispatch the ranger. Where the film begins with McGraw walking into the store, making small talk and getting shot, the series does a great job letting us get to know the character, and introduces McGraw’s partner, Freddie Gonzales (SONS OF ANARCHY, THE AVENGERS), a young Ranger who looks up to McGraw. The two rangers, looking for any leads on the fugitive Gecko brothers (D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz taking over the George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino roles), stop at the liquor store, and while Freddie stays in the car, McGraw goes in, makes small talk with the cashier and uses the restroom. When McGraw notices a knife in the restroom, he knows something is wrong, and when he leaves the restroom to talk to the cashier again, up walks Seth Gecko, who instantly shoots Earl. Instead of doing what the film did, and making it an instant kill, the series adds a great touch of then going back and forth between present time, with Early dying on the ground, and the events leading up to that afternoon, giving viewers a really tightly-paced feel for the characters, and showing some very solid character development. It’s elements such as those, that really makes the pilot episode work so very well, you actually feel for each character, good or bad, and it makes you feel somewhat of a connection to those characters. Freddie is a man who looks up to Earl, and with a baby on the way, he wants Early to be the baby’s godfather, knowing that if anyone could teach a strong sense of ethics to someone, it would be him. Earl is focused on time, and how much he has left, before opportunities go away and he keeps counting the days and moments that he has left to see people he cares about. It’s definitely a different kind of Earl McGraw than we’ve seen played by Michael Parks in the film, as well as in PLANET TERROR, and the KILL BILL films. Johnson does a great job, breathing new life to the character, and ends up making McGraw a more sympathetic character than Parks’ take on Earl.
Present day, while Freddie is stuck outside in a shootout with the Gecko bros(while Earl is laying on the floor bleeding), inside the liquor store, the tension is growing, as like in the film, it’s Richie Gecko that is paranoid of everyone and is putting his older (and more reasonable) brother Seth on edge. Having a couple of young hostages, Richie sees visions of demons taunting him, making him slightly crazy, but Seth does his best to try to talk some sense into the outside ranger, and tries to find a way for the two brothers to escape. Calling his middle man Carlos (THAT ’70s SHOW‘s Wilmer Valderama), Seth asks for Carlos to send them a chopper to get out, but Carlos ends up telling them the heat’s too much, and that they’re going to have to meet Carlos at a bar on the border. A shootout, and a few bodies later (we think the Geckos kill Freddie, but as Seth and Richie finally escape, we see that he had a vest on), the Geckos are on the run, and Freddie is now a man on a mission. His mission is to fulfill the promise that he made to a dying McGraw, to eventually kill the Geckos, even if it means going to hell.
What makes the series so enthralling and interesting, even just from the pilot, is how beautifully it’s shot. It looks almost better than the film, cinematography-wise. Another very surprising, but welcomed element, is how differently some of the characters from the film are played this time around. While Tarantino’s performance as Richie was manic and seemed more ADHD-based, Holtz does an absolutely excellent job giving the series’ Richie a completely different approach. He’s calm this time around, making him much more frightening when he speaks, and his actions seem so much more creepy, due to his subtle yet absolutely insane performance. Holtz’ Richie believes that what he’s seeing in his head is the truth, so when he acts accordingly, it becomes far more interesting to watch.
The only semi-drag element to the show’s first episode is that the character of Seth Gecko is played a tad bit too close to Clooney’s performance in the film, but this IS the pilot, so here’s hoping that D.J. Cotrona is able to find his own voice as the series goes on, because if he does, then that would make for an extremely solid cast all around.
The pilot does an excellent job establishing a gritty yet somewhat stylized tone, gives viewers a glimpse into some well written characters, and instantly hooks you, making you anxious to follow the story and to see where it goes, I’m definitely looking forward to more.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: The Series airs Tuesdays at 9PM, on the El Rey Network.