Sunday, September 27, 2015

REVIEW: 'Blood & Oil' - Billy and Cody Lefever Try to Make It Big in the Cutthroat World of Oil in 'Pilot'

ABC's Blood & Oil - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Following the largest oil discovery in American history, Billy and Cody Lefever pack up and move to the boomtown of Rock Springs, North Dakota where a millionaire is made every day. After a rough start, Billy crosses paths with the baron of the Bakken, Hap Briggs, and his equally powerful wife, Carla, as they embark on expanding their empire into new territory.

Blood & Oil certainly has a retro feel to it. The way its twists and turns play out across this first episode are very much familial to fans of the primetime soap opera genre. The narrative does allow some time to breath for its characters to actually live in the reality of their situation - unlike some other high energy soap operas on ABC's schedule right now. But that doesn't inherently make the characters interesting. This premiere does a decent enough job establishing who these characters are. But they aren't completely nuanced. In fact, a viewer can only walk away from this episode knowing a handful of things about the characters. But even that only applies to a handful of people who the show thinks deserve the attention in this first episode.

The tycoon versus the newcomer is a foundation that has been tested over the years to much success. It is a winning formula. They are polar opposites. The conflict that extends from their interactions will be the thing that fuels the action for the series. Billy and his wife, Cody, only came up to North Dakota in order to open a laundromat. And yet, that's not an entertaining or sexy premise to set a primetime soap opera around. They literally have to lose everything just in order to take ahold of the grand opportunity that is presented to them in this area. They didn't come to this town hoping to make it as oil tycoons. They came to cash in on the business boom of the area. What they got was an even more vast opportunity. One that was complicated by the news that Cody is pregnant. But they are still confident and united at the end of the premiere. In fact, they are much happier than they were in the beginning and middle. But the one million dollar check probably helped with that.

Meanwhile, Hap is doing his best to expand his oil empire. He has made a vast amount of money mining these fields for the vast resources just beneath the surface. He has made a name for himself. Some people respect him. Billy sure does while his employees are more than happy to work for him. And yet, some people know that Hap can screw people over with deals. That's apparent in the performance right away. He's someone who is capable of being a sensitive and caring man but who's also a strong and determined businessman. Billy negotiating with Hap isn't as tense as the premiere probably thought it was. But it does establish a partnership between the two men. One that will only get more complicated as the series continues.

The show does an adequate job filling in the atmosphere of this environment. It's a melting pot of many people of different backgrounds all looking to build a better and happier life. It's a place where a horrible one bedroom apartment can cost two thousand dollars a month. A place where the risk is so incredibly high but so is the subsequent reward should they get lucky. On the other hand though, this is also a show that features a Native American woman proclaiming, "Whoever kills a spirit animal is cursed!" This show really doesn't understand that culture at all. In fact, nothing the show does in this premiere is all that subtle - whether it's Hap's dissatisfaction with Wick or Cody's pregnancy. This town is constantly on the move but the characters are likely to go through the same thing more than once just so the audience knows what's going on. It gives the show a certain low energy in the first episode. Big stakes and risks are happening. But the energy never really rises to an exciting level.

Of course, the episode ending cliffhanger certainly increases the tension and the stakes a considerable deal. The show did earn a moment like that too. A conflict had been brewing and it was nice to see that payoff by episode's end. It did feel like a sudden development though. Wick had largely just been an entitled rich kid who took a turn for the dark as soon as his father cut him off from the family business and legacy. Wick is a lot of talk but not a lot of competent action. First, he foolishly destroys one of the oil rigs just to prove he's capable of doing a good job. He's basically a guy who blames the entire world for his problems but not himself. He feels he deserves his family's business. But that doesn't justify trying to forcibly take it from his father. Hap is an intelligent and wise man after all. He is aware that he is being robbed soon after he and his new partners enter the site. He is slightly in control of the situation even though he's not the one with the gun. Sure, he has ample support from both Carla and Billy. But he is able to hold his own in this fight.

The ensuing fight creates one big and tense cliffhanger. Sure, it's literally a bunch of grown men rolling around in oil. But it's also a thrilling sequence because sparks are flying. If one ember should hit the oil, they will all go up in flames. That's ultimately what does occur. It appears that Hap is the only one still standing in the oil in the end. It's not likely that the show will kill off Don Johnson in the premiere though. He is the marketable star of the show. He may not be absolutely stealing the show as the standout performer. He knows that he needs to offer ample support to everyone else. But it still wouldn't be logical to kill him off. But that means the fallout of this failed robbery needs to be important. If everyone survives virtually unharmed, there needs to be some kind of major consequence. It's uncertain if that will happen though. Still I'm at least curious to find out. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was written by Josh Pate and Rodes Fishburne and directed by Jonas Pate.
  • Billy seems to be a horrible driver. He is involved in three accidents in this premiere - all of which could easily have been avoided. They happened solely for dramatic effect.
  • Hap's wife, Carla, seems to be just as capable as he is in getting a job done. She has no problem trying to bribe and manipulate her way into getting the information she and her husband so desperately need. Too bad most of that plays as exposition here.
  • Billy and Cody use some of their newfound money to invest in the barbecue restaurant the nice people who welcomed them to town dreamed of starting. How important will that be in the future though?
  • Why is Jules, the bar owner and loan shark, so committed to Wick? Yes, he's a very attractive man. But she has no problem with him plotting against his father. Why does she believe in him so much?
  • Clifton Lundegren, the owner of the property everyone was battling over, was determined not to make a deal with Hap. That's why he gave Billy such a discount. How will he react when he learns that Billy then cut a deal for himself with Hap?
  • Delroy Lindo will be given more to do in the future, right? If not, that's a horrible waste of his talents.
  • Yeah, some of this dialogue is just horrible to hear. Some not even worth repeating. It's even worse the more times one sees this premiere.