‘Blood & Oil’ Review: ABC Delivers the ‘Dallas’ Knockoff You Never Asked For

Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse aren’t enough to make dopey drama stand out

Last Updated: September 27, 2015 @ 10:40 AM

ABC’s “Blood and Oil” was one of several new series of the 2015-2016 season to see a showrunner depart due to “creative differences” before premiering. Having now twice seen the pilot, I’m not surprised.

Young, beautiful, earnest (and white, it goes without saying) couple Billy (Chace Crawford) and Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse) LeFever move to an oil boomtown in North Dakota to open a laundromat–but a near collision on the highway sends them, their truck, and their washers and dryers flipping over on the side of the road. Because Billy has a bit of a gambling streak in him, he opted to skip insuring the machines to buy three more. Now Billy and Cody are broke and homeless, and she is sulky because he didn’t listen to her. This is not the first instance Cody will be petulant because Billy thinks big.

Simultaneously, oil billionaire Hap Briggs (Don Johnson) and his wife Carla (Amber Valleta) are dealing with politicians (“You’re a little crooked,” Carla says to one as she adjusts his tie) and Hap’s ne’er-do-well son Wick (Michael Foster). You know Hap isn’t a hero because he and his clothes are clean; he lacks the noble, artfully placed grime that Billy sports. And you know that Wick is a heedless rich kid because he doesn’t care that a hunting trip resulted in bagging what turns out to be a spirit animal, infuriating the local Native Americans. Also, Foster sports a patchy goatee, which is the universal symbol for morally questionable.

The Briggs and the LeFevers eventually connect, of course, thanks to a hot tip Cody passes on to Billy that leads to some audacious economic choices on his part, which leave Cody pissed yet again. And though Hap says that Billy’s ballsy maneuvering reminds him of himself, watching old pros Johnson and Valleta sitting across a glossy dining room table from callow youths Crawford and Rittenhouse is jarring. Both Johnson and Valleta recognize the script for what it needs–a quirked eyebrow here, a glower held a bit longer than usual there–and tip the story in their favor as the down-and-dirty version of Frank and Claire Underwood. Crawford and Rittenhouse are so busy trawling for sympathy that they barely register. And Foster never pops in the pilot the way, say, Josh Henderson did on TNT’s recent “Dallas” reboot, which was overseen by departed “Blood and Oil” showrunner Cynthia Cidre.

Whereas Cidre had a rich history to draw upon for the older characters on “Dallas,” in the pilot Hap Briggs feels like nothing but a pale, decades-old carbon of J.R. Ewing. Does “Blood and Oil” want to be a series about overcoming adversity in pursuit of the American dream? Or does ABC want another melodrama about fights, feuds, and egos, set against a backdrop of natural beauty while foregrounding a young, sexy cast? That question isn’t answered in the pilot, but either answer can be found almost anywhere else on TV these days. A better question is this: We’ve already had two installments of “Dallas”; does America need an ersatz third?

“Blood & Oil” premieres Sunday, Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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