In what might be an industry first, movie director Robert Rodriguez ("Desperado," "Machete," "Sin City") has his own TV channel.
Born out of a commitment by Comcast, as it acquired an interest in NBCUniversal, to carry minority-owned networks, El Rey (also available via Time Warner and DirecTV) has as its sometime-stated target young English-speaking Latinos. Or rather, young English-speaking Latinos — and anyone else with a television — who likes the sort of movies Rodriguez makes. The schedule is made up of replays of genre films and cult movies that lean on violence and sex, in that order, plus reruns of "Starsky & Hutch," "Dark Angel" and "The X-Files."
As the El Rey home page has it: "It's a white-knuckled suicide leap into a chum bucket filled with the sex, gore, and fist-pumping action that'll have you screaming." In one way or another.
The channel, which went live in December, now has its first homemade program, some of it directed by Rodriguez himself: the 10-episode "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series," which elaborates upon his 1996 Mexico-set vampire film, an A-list B-movie (Clooney! Hayek! Keitel!) written by and costarring Quentin Tarantino.
It is not a sequel, but a remake, which adds material and characters and scenes but — in the hour I've seen — follows the lines of the original. If you have seen the movie, you'll know, broadly, where the series is going before it gets there.
That isn't a problem. Indeed, the particulars of the content aside, it's a profitable approach. Whatever else you want to say about the movie — it had energy and color and Danny Trejo to its credit — it was not exactly a feast of character development, small moments or enlivening detail.
I don't want to oversell this point — the show is still very much invested in cheap thrills — but the characters, the sympathetic ones, are rounded enough so that you feel for them a little when things threaten to go or go bad. It has more of a moral center.
Briefly: The well-dressed criminal Gecko brothers, Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Richie (Zane Holtz), are on the run after a bloody Texas bank robbery. Seth, whom Richie has sprung from prison, is the saner of the two, relatively speaking; Richie is the sort of crazy person you don't want to call crazy — he doesn't like that at all ("It's rude") — but here is also subject to supernatural visions and fits. In the first episode, they wind up at a Benny's World of Liquor, out in the middle of nowhere, where they come up against Sheriff Earl McGrath (Don Johnson, finally aged out of Don Johnson parts, and excellent) and his deputy, Ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia), a new character who looks to be the hero of the piece.
Whether he fulfills that role remains to be seen, as does the central-to-the-action vampire-friendly roadhouse, whose name is unprintable here. Also waiting across the border are crime lord Don Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama) and Eiza González as the undead exotic dancer Santanico Pandemonium, memorably embodied by Salma Hayek in the big-screen original. Genre-film stalwart Robert Patrick (who was in the direct-to-video "From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money") is also waiting in the wings.
It's probably enough to say that if you like this sort of thing, this is just the sort of thing you'll like. (If the tautology fits, wear it.) Rodriguez knows how this machine works as well as anyone alive.
Whether such sensationalist kicks are good for us "as a people," or indeed as people in particular, is a question the culture and its guardians and gadflies have been batting around for years. A decision is not due any time soon.
'From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series'
Where: El Rey
When: 6 and 9 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times