The first season of the From Dusk Till Dawn series – ten episodes in total – re-tells the plot of the original film. But it does not simply spread that original story over 450 minutes of running time. Instead, the show uses the film as a template from which it develops a rich universe.
The Gecko Brothers (played by Zane Holtz and D. J. Cotrona) screwed up a bank robbery and are now on the run from the police. By accident, they cross the path of two Texas Rangers (Don Johnson and Jesse Garcia) which complicates matters further. Seth Gecko tries to get help from their Mexican contact Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama), who had promised to smuggle them across the border. But Carlos is dragging his feet for various reasons, not the least of which is that the Geckos have drawn far more attention to themselves than anticipated. With half of Texas looking for them and Ranger Gonzalez (Garcia) trying to convince the higher-ups of his theory that the brothers are connected to ritual serial killings, the Geckos are trying to kidnap a family and forcing them to smuggle them into Mexico in their RV.
As you can see, there are many elements in the premise that come directly from the film, and others that do not. And there are going to be more of the former, but I do not want to go into more detail, for fear of spoilers. All I can say is that the series takes the “ancient temple” element of the film and builds its back-story on that.
The biggest change – one that might be hard to swallow for purists – is that the creatures in this series are not really vampires. Rather, they are reptilian demons (although some have wings) and have some special powers related to that. Still, most of the usual vampire lore applies: they have (snake) fangs, they suck their victim’s blood, they can turn others into one of their own, they are hurt by sunlight and can be killed by a stake through the heart.
The show has a very good cast and the acting is generally on a high level. Apart from the aforementioned actors, the cast includes Madison Davenport, Brandon Soo Hoo, Eiza González, Callie Hernandez, Jake Busey, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Samantha Esteban, and Robert Patrick. Just to avoid any confusion: Patrick is not playing the same character as in From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money.
This list is deliberately “egalitarian”, not naming leading roles and major or minor supporting characters, so there is no spoiler as to who will appear in how many episodes, or who will die earlier, etc., etc. But I can mention one guest appearance without spoiling anything: William Sadler appears in one episode, and he is enjoyable as always.
The writing is good, but there are structural problems. The show provides a lot of the back-story via extended flash-backs throughout the entire first season. Add to that a number of “visions” and “virtual realities”. It all seems a bit much at times. Take away all these extra elements and you have to ask yourself if the central plot-line is not a bit thin for ten episodes.
This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of things seem to stay pretty vague throughout the season. That is in part deliberate, as there are many plans and schemes developed by various parties, and the audience is supposed to be kept in the dark about the loyalties of most protagonists. It is in this point where the show deviates the most from the vibe and spirit of the film. In the film most things seemed to happen through unhappy coincidences, creating a crazy world of mayhem and “pandemonium” – in the show most things are part of plan and nearly every move is predetermined by some outside force. But we do not always come to understand the plan, or the purpose of these individual moves. Which leads me back to the “vagueness”-problem: there is one overriding scheme, one specific goal of one of the characters (regaining agency over one’s own life) that is at the centre of all events, and the ins and outs of that specific scheme are never properly explained, not even in the season finale. Which sort of devalues many of the other story elements in the show, because we do not really know why certain things had to happen, or why they happened the way they did.
Part of the reason for this narrative decision is certainly the desire to drag things into the second season, but I still feel that we as an audience would have needed a bit more clarity.
Another problem I had with the season finale was the fact that it seemed to wrap up a lot of sub-plots rather suddenly and unceremoniously, doing injustice to some characters and their motivations in the process.
I guess I would rate this season at about 7.5 out of 10 – I would have possibly rated it higher if it had been seven or eight episodes instead of ten, with less visions and flash-backs and a more clearly explained central scheme.
Still, this show is definitely worth checking out, especially if you liked the film. This show, which is supervised by Robert Rodriguez himself, takes you back into the world of the original From Dusk Till Dawn, without ruining the film for you. Personally, I am looking forward to catching season 2 some day.