Saturday, 24 May 2014

Post-mortem: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN – Season One

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The idea of turning 1996 cult crime horror film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN into an ongoing TV drama, almost two decades later, for a Latino network its director Robert Rodriguez had created, remains uniquely ludicrous. And after watching all 10 episodes of this improbable first season, I'm not sure it was worth the effort—mainly because season 2 will continue the story beyond the film's resolution, and whenever From Dusk till Dawn: The Series strayed from the original's path it kept stumbling.

The frustrating thing is that FDtD demonstrated promise in some areas, by successfully embellishing a few aspects of the film in pleasing ways. Preacher Jacob Fuller's (Robert Patrick) loss of faith and mollycoddling of his two teenage kids was better explained as a reaction to a car accident that killed his wife; Jacob's adopted Chinese son Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) actually had a personality; and the addition of hard-bitten Ranger Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia) trying to avenge his boss's death was the most successful new ingredient to the plot.

Well, until Gonzalez discovered he's descended from an ancient family of vampire hunters. FDtD got sillier the further into the story it wandered, simply put, and while I appreciated the main characters arriving at the iconic Titty Twister bar as early as episode 6 ("Place of Dead Roads"), it also marked a mid-season downturn. Rodriguez returned to helm episode 7 ("Pandemonium") after performing pilot duties, which was an hour trying to replicate the movie's bonkers bloodbath. Inevitably, it wasn't anywhere near as demented and hilarious... although the set design for the TV version's Titty Twister club was an improvement.

Modern visual effects eclipse mid-'90s CGI; but while the original film's hellish climax was a delirious genre-bending joke on the audience, in the TV show it was just another step down a familiar road. There was unfortunately very little thrill or surprise, seeing as the show had introduced its vampires as early as episode 2 ("Blood Runs Thick"). And when the demonic strippers had drunk their fill of truckers and bikers, the season was still three hours away from the finish line; so instead of "Pandemonium" beginning an extended blow-out of gore and mayhem, the story had to continue telling a story. And it's here FDtD ran into big problems, because when your penultimate episode has a vampire-Richie (Zane Holtz) and Seth (D.J Cotrona) re-enacting one of their failed robberies in an Aztec version of Star Trek's Holodeck, it's time to admit defeat.

The story felt over, but nobody had told the writers. And by this point I had become completely disinterested in the backbone mystery of vampiress Santanico (Eiza González) luring Richie to her Temple, and plain irritated crotch-gun wielding "Sex Machine" was now a blonde undercover professor played by Jake Busey. (A man who primarily existed to drop pages of exposition about the vampires and their history.)

Admittedly, I dug the show's approach to its vampires as ancient Aztec creatures who are more snake-like than bat-like. I also grew to enjoy what Holtz and Cotrona were doing with their roles as tetchy siblings (as memories of the Tarantino and Clooney double-act began to dim), and there were enough fun and ridiculous moments to keep me entertained. But this show needed a stronger creative direction across its season, and a much better final volley of episodes.

The season did end with enough finality to feel like The End, but now a second season's been ordered I'm very concerned. On the one hand, these ten episodes suggest the writers get lost whenever the series goes off piste from the movie's framework; but maybe being liberated from Tarantino's source material will ensure season 2 becomes its own thing, so audiences can stop playing "spot the difference" every week.

Oh, but I'm eternally grateful it has introduced me to Eiza González.