At the very least, “Bad Blood” lives up to its name: It’s bad and there’s blood. Other than that, there isn’t much nice to say about the stale six-episode mafia docudrama making its international debut on Netflix after a premiere on Canada’s Citytv last year.
It’s limply acted, turgidly written and plotted in such a way that the season feels much, much longer than it is. In some stretches, “Bad Blood” is so painfully boring, you’ll wish you were sleeping with the fishes. It doesn’t help that we’ve seen this type of story told a million times before, to much better success.
“Bad Blood” does begin with an interesting hook: It’s telling a true story, one of Montreal’s notorious Rizzuto crime family, which oversaw a vast criminal empire from the port city for decades. A flashy opening sequence introduces us to Vito Rizzuto (Anthony LaPaglia, “Without a Trace”), who takes over for his father as mob boss and successfully unites the city’s warring syndicates. We’re also treated to a little cameo from Cheryl Blossom’s maple-syrup-mogul-turned-Canadian-heroin-smuggler dad. (Joke.)
Vito’s son, Nicolo Jr. (Brett Donahue, “The Other Kingdom”) is clean-cut and independently successful with no interest in the mob business. So naturally, when Vito is sent to prison, Nicolo is — gasp! — roped into the mob business. The exception to otherwise uninspiring performances is the excellent Kim Coates (“Sons of Anarchy”) as Declan, Vito’s capable if ruthless right-hand man, who keeps the Rizzuto operation running when Nicolo Jr. proves inept.
Oh, and there are also some women characters. In a big win for diversity, the female roles on “Bad Blood” range from stripper to mistress to backup mistress to shrill politician. It’s not quite clear whether these lovely, leggy ladies have inner lives or distinguishing traits. But who needs those when a made man makes you his woman? At one point, Vito’s two paramours fistfight in a department store, a failure of the Bechdel test so spectacular it makes “The Wolf of Wall Street” look like it was directed by Betty Friedan.
Sure, this genre has never been especially friendly to women. But even the stingiest analysis of Carmela Soprano or Kay Adams would find them lightyears more progressive than the women of “Bad Blood” — if for no other reason than that they have names.
Is it really fair to compare “Bad Blood” to “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather,” two universally-adored, zeitgeisty pieces of gangster entertainment? Maybe not, but that’s the tricky fate of any on-screen depiction of mobster life. “Bad Blood” very badly wants to say something interesting about family and difficult decisions. But in the process, it forgets that prestige TV, in addition to the nudity and violence, also needs to be good. The closer resemblance here is to “House of Cards,” another show cloaked in enough neo-noir and masculine energy to dupe an audience into believing that its hokey truisms about power are actually profound.
The explicit cultural connections “Bad Blood” is inviting aren’t doing the show many favors either. That writer-producers Simon Barry (“Continuum”) and Michael Konyves (“Barney’s Version”) have described this as a “Shakespearean-level revenge tale” betrays an almost laughable inexperience with the Bard’s work. If only there were some hugely renowned Shakespeare festival in Canada where they could discover just how far off that comparison is.
Canada, you may have universal health care, the better side of Niagara Falls and Kawhi Leonard. But when it comes to the gangster genre, we’ve got you squarely beat. It’s not personal, it’s strictly business. So let’s just call it even, eh?