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Saturday, September 5, 2015

TV Review: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series Season 2

Second season forced to embrace originality.

Review by Brandon Wolfe

The first season of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series was an exercise in sustained pointlessness. The series, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of his own 1996 film, saw fit to take a quick and dirty story and build it out laboriously, to the extent where scenes that once lasted a scant few minutes of screentime now made up a full hour of television. Grafting fat onto a formerly lean framework predictably didn’t do the narrative any favors, nor did the fact that the writing for the series wasn’t merely a step down from Quentin Tarantino’s script for the film so much as a freefall from the upper atmosphere. The series also suffered from an inferior cast, the only highlights of which were Robert Patrick, inheriting Harvey Keitel’s role as Jacob Fuller, and DJ Cotrona, who clearly studied the nuances of George Clooney’s performance as antihero Seth Gecko. Though the series did deviate from the film in some notable ways, too much of it retread ground previously covered, and covered infinitely better. The series didn’t make you want to keep watching it so much as it made you want to watch the film again to wash the bad taste from your mouth.

Season 2 of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series finds itself at a pivotal juncture. There is nothing left of From Dusk Till Dawn for it to pilfer. In the unlikely event that the series deigns to borrow from the film’s pitiful direct-to-video sequel, Texas Blood Money, it will now be forced to leave the nest and chart its own course. There is also the meager potential for some interest from the audience now, as From Dusk Till Dawn never had an authentic sequel after Clooney became the Sultan of Hollywood not long after its release. We never learned what became of Seth after he departed for the mythic Mexican sanctuary of El Rey at the film’s end. Now, through this series, a version of that tale can be told. The question is whether there exists any reason to expect it to be told well.

Based on the initial two episodes of Season 2, that question is still open-ended. Seth and Kate Fuller (Madison Davenport) are now partners, pulling odd jobs just to get by. Seth is overcome with depression and taking to abusing substances after being separated from his brother Richie (Zane Holtz) in the season finale. Richie is now a vampire (or a Culebra, in the parlance of the series, as these versions of vampires adopt the attributes of snakes), having joined forces with Culebra chanteuse Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez). The duo are bent on opposing the mythic Nine Lords, which sets one of those lords, Amancio Malvado (Esai Morales), on their trail, as well as an invincible bounty hunter called The Regulator (Danny Trejo, because of course). Meanwhile, Kate’s brother Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) is now a Culebra slave back at the Titty Twister, where he encounters a seemingly penitent Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama), the vampiric wild card who caused a great deal of chaos last year. Also around is a now-undead Sex Machine (Jake Busey), whose knowledge of ancient symbols and prophecies proves valuable to the Nine Lords.

Exploring the Culebra underworld affords From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series the opportunity to carve out its own unique identity. All the talk of prophecies and the various players jockeying for position in the vampire hierarchy feels a bit too familiar to genre aficionados, but at least it’s new terrain to the Dusk mythology. The enduring problem with the series is that it’s not terribly well-written. Every character speaks in hackneyed tough-guy banalities and Rodriguez, that movie geek, can barely go two scenes without having the characters directly reference some old film that he loves (though Carlos confounding Malvado by referencing Dora the Explorer is a rare moment of genuine amusement). However, a heist perpetrated by Seth and eager criminal protégé Kate in the second episode is pretty enjoyable and reminds us that Rodriguez can still pull off zippy cheap-thrill entertainment fairly well when he wants to.

Being perfectly frank, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series exists because Rodriguez has a cable network now and needs to generate original content so it has something other than old movies to air. That is the obvious rooting interest at work here rather than any genuine creative spark. Yet, all told, the series mostly works as the sort of low-rent cable schlockfest that would be right at home on SyFy. One notable advantage to the series is that it looks fairly polished. The Culebra transformation effects are largely impressive and the entire series has a cinematic sheen that belies how little one imagines it actually costs to produce (if nothing else, Rodriguez is a wizard at stretching a dollar). It’s difficult to recommend From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series in an era of so flush with quality television, but now that it’s stepped away from slavishly tracing over its cinematic predecessor, there’s worse junk-food TV out there to sink your teeth into.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Brandon Wolfe at @BrandonTheWolfe.


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