Hit or Sh**: ABC’s BLOOD & OIL
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Aside from being two things that you may find caked on my face regularly, BLOOD & OIL is one of ABC’s new primetime soap operas centering on the real-life oil boom occurring in North Dakota’s Bakken formation. Propelled by Don Johnson’s television revival, the show functions much in the same vein as CBS’s DALLAS, following the antics of a wealthy oil baron family and the peons who wish to gain their favor. Any consumer of television familiar with other cash crop or commodity dramas like CANE can predict that BLOOD & OIL focuses less on crude oil itself and more on the fight for power and influence that stems from it. The seeds of an actually engaging series are definitely present, but sadly the show does little to cultivate relationships or flesh out its characters.
We begin with the charismatic, quick-on-his-feet Billy LeFever (Chace Crawford) and his ever-vigilant wife Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse) as the two seek to break from their proletariat chains and establish a laundromat in order to get a couple bucks from the influx of hungry oil workers flocking to the Dakotas. Within the first minute their plans are spoiled by a car crash, which ruins their washing machines. Here, the show lazily jams in why we should care about the couple. A goodbye party scene with family and friends is seen through flashback as Billy cheerfully tells many investors that they won’t be let down. This raises the stakes, but only in a hasty, surface-level kind of way. Heartstrings are even more desperately grabbed at when the couple reveals that they have a child on the way.
Like spackle for uninteresting couples!
All of this would be forgivable if the couple’s relationship were more believable. Though Billy and Cody only rarely seem to be at odds with each other, their takes on the circumstances at hand are vastly opposing. With the help of Jules Jackman (India de Beaufort), a sexy English bar owner, the couple arrives in the newly-risen shantytown, appropriately named Patchwork.
Cody gets her bearings rather quickly by exercising her pharmaceutical knowledge amidst the chaos at a nearby drug store. Billy, on the other hand, twists the couples’ fate by getting a job, losing one, rinsing and repeating. While this does rev up a bit of excitement the first go around, Billy nears becoming a liability, forcing his pairing with Cody to be all the more nonsensical. It is only until the LeFevers run into the Briggs family that things start to get really interesting.
The couple first comes across Wick Briggs (Scott Michael Foster) who, due to his killing of a supposed sacred white moose, is in the middle of an altercation with members of a Native American tribe. This puts Haps Briggs’ (Don Johnson) new developments in jeopardy, pitting the family against the tribe and further away from rich reservation land. It’s fun to see Hap give his spoiled son a few lashes throughout the episode, most likely because of Johnson reigniting his acting chops, but we’ve seen the disappointed father plus incorrigible son bit millions of times in other television dramas.
Although with this picture, “Disappointed Daddy” takes on a much more flustering context
With the power of new drilling technology, the Briggs family discovers supposedly dry land can now be squeezed for juicy crude by bypassing the reservation through a lonely old man’s ranch. Hap Briggs’ hot new wife Darla (Amber Valletta), basically a clone of HOUSE OF CARDS’ Claire Underwood, tells him of this. Tensions with native tribes shows promise as a unique matter to explore, but the lack of any Native American characters with names in the pilot is a missed opportunity – not to mention a tiny bit insensitive.
It could be worse
Billy, after a few blue collar endeavors, reaches said lonely old man first and arranges a co-sign with him and Briggs. The high point of the first episode follows him, as he races a few Briggs representatives to put his signature on land acquisition papers, but this loses steam once the audience realizes everyone is basically on the same side.
That really is the problem with the series so far. No one is at each other’s throats. Wick’s plan to siphon his father’s oil after being cut off as the main antagonizing force isn’t a premise with any bite to it. It’s cool to see things come full circle, as it’s revealed that Ms. Jackman is sleeping with Wick, but this is yet another pairing that feels forced. The show wants to create an environment where every character is watching their back, but so far there isn’t really a reason to. This is a huge pitfall for a pilot, but if the LeFevers soon ruin what they have going with the Briggs, which is inevitable, then things may end up delightfully messy and get into actually fun dramatic territory.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
BLOOD & OIL airs on ABC on Sundays