In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC
‘Rags to riches’ stories have been a popular genre for centuries, with the (literally) poor audience getting to imagine what life would be like for them if they were suddenly rich, typically showing that they have some inner morality from years of abjection and hard work that makes them in some way better than those who had been born into wealth.
Think Cinderella, Aladdin, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist or anything by Catherine Cookson, just for starters.
It’s a worthy genre, but one with rules. So to a certain extent you have to admire Blood & Oil for breaking possibly the most iron clad of them all.
It stars Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl) and Rebecca Rittenhouse (Red Band Society) as a young working class couple who go to seek their fortune in the North Dakota oil rush, hoping to make it big with a laundromat for the no-doubt dirty workers. Unfortunately, their dream and most of their possessions soon evaporate into thin air.
More fortunately, just as things look their worst, an opportunity arises through which they might be able to make it really rich through oil tycoon Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) and his wife Amber Valletta (Revenge).
Will they succeed? Will they make it big in life? Will their marriage be ripped asunder by all the temptations before them?
I don’t know and I largely don’t care, because of Blood & Oil‘s horrific transgression. Because our heroes, the one’s we’re supposed to root for, are complete fucking idiots.
Billy and Cody Lefever dream of a new life beyond their working class roots and move to “The Bakken” in North Dakota, booming after the biggest oil discovery in American history. They’re soon pitted against a ruthless tycoon who forces them to bet big and put everything on the line, including their marriage.
Starring Don Johnson as Hap, Chace Crawford as Billy, Rebecca Rittenhouse as Kelly, Delroy Lindo as Tip, Amber Valletta as Carla, Scott Michael Foster as Wick, and India De Beaufort as Jules.
Blood & Oil is written by Josh Pate and Rodes Fishburne. Executive producers are Tony Krantz, Josh Pate, Rodes Fishburne, Drew Comins, and Don Johnson; produced by ABC Signature.
Is it any good?
It occasionally manages to excite, occasionally makes us interested in the characters, but all too often it makes you sit there, shake your head and laconically drawl at the television, “WTF are you doing, you complete fucking idiots?”
Obviously, fortune favours the brave, the American Dream™, only the young can do what’s impossible because they don’t know it’s impossible, yadda yadda yadda.
But what kind of idiot thinks that getting friends and family to stump up $35k for washing machines for oil workers is the sure-fire way to get rich and start a successful business? And who does that without doing any market research (eg going to North Dakota to see if they already have laundromats – hint: they might do – or whether oil workers use them a lot or can afford their own washing machines if they’re so loaded – hint: they might do)?
On not one but two occasions, our heroes prove themselves incapable of even the basics of driving, thus imperilling their dreams and even their own lives, as well as their families’ investment. They even take on a potentially vicious gang of armed robbers at night, without so much as a big stick.
And I’ve not even started on all the stupid things they do to borrow yet more money along the way.
To be fair, Rittenhouse’s character almost shows signs of brain cells at certain points in the narrative; unfortunately, Crawford’s doesn’t so instead you wonder why she’s so stupid as to have hitched her wagon to this particularly dim star.
To be even fairer, quite a lot of people are stupid in this. Johnson’s quite stupid, his son (Scott Michael Foster) is colossally stupid and the local landlady/bar owner/loanshark (the perplexingly English India de Beaufort from Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire) is reasonably stupid for hooking up with him.
If the characters had been a tad smarter, Blood & Oil could have been a lot more interesting. Johnson’s great, if a little past action scenes, as the crotchy old patriarch who thinks his son is a dick (correct) but that Crawford has the potential to be a de facto replacement. Crawford’s character has gumption, at least, and Rittenhouse does at least come up with the occasional idea.
There’s also a vague recollection that North Dakota might have some Native Americans. True, they’re mostly there to get in the way of all that lovely oil-drilling with their stupid beliefs than to be actual characters. But at least they’re there, and liable to become more important as the series goes on.
There are also the standard heart-warming moments of the rags to riches genre, as our couple achieve at least some of their dreams (shortly before encountering new pitfalls, of course) and show generosity to others who have shown them kindness. There are also some lovely spaces on display in the North Utah exteriors doubling as North Dakota, even if you don’t often get to see them in between the space cases.
You still have to wonder why pretty much everyone in North Dakota has a Southern accent, no matter how many generations their families have lived there. There are also long periods of the episode where nothing happens, beyond yawning by the audience.
But it could have been better. Unfortunately, Blood & Oil is likely to be one of those shows where everyone does stupid things that cause more stupid things to happen, all while the audience screams at the screen in frustration at all the stupidity. If that’s your jam, Blood & Oil could be the show for you. If not, try watching repeats of Dallas instead.