Fact: Chace Crawford is hot. His golden god-likeness shined as Nate Archibald in the CW’s “Gossip Girl” — the Polo poster child of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, sweeping ladies off their Louboutins with just a flash of his pearly whites (and let’s be honest: usually real pearls, too). But even when he’s far from Manhattan and far from rich, as he is in ABC’s newest drama, “Blood and Oil,” Crawford takes the lumberjack-chic look to a whole new level.
Crawford’s character, Billy LeFever, along with his equally gorgeous wife, Cody (Rebecca Rittenhouse, “Red Band Society”), are hopping the bandwagon en route to North Dakota where a modern-age oil boom has rocked the small town of Rock Springs. Chasing the wave of liquid gold, the couple dreams of starting their own laundromat business — a plan they somehow spin as sexy — but their truckload of uninsured laundry machines takes a fatal tumble off the highway before they reach town.
Despite the literal derailment of their dreams, the LeFevers are unfazed and unblemished, posing like Anthropologie models as they wait to hitch a ride into town. Rock Springs itself is like a rustic-hipster paradise: roaming buffalos, strings of dusty jar lights cloaking decomposed buildings, a wood-panelled bar blasting “Turn Down for What” and young people trying their damndest to snag the American Dream.
But like everything “vintage,” the oil town is pricier than it looks — a shabby apartment rents for $2,000 a month — leaving the poor LeFevers to squat (gasp) in a backstreet shantytown, which really resembles a hip food truck park. Still, the golden couple rallies for luck and optimism: Cody lands a job at the pharmacy, where she overhears a customer’s conversation about an oil field for sale. Billy, hearing the news, races to raise enough money to buy the land before oil tycoon Hap Briggs (Don Johnson, “Miami Vice”) and his wife, Carla (Amber Valletta, “Hitch”) claim it. Unleashing full-throttle charm and a mad dash through mud (after he runs off the road yet again), Billy collects $100,000 to buy the oil field. Then, in a risky negotiation, the LeFevers sell the property to Briggs for a couple million dollars, plus change.
Billy isn’t the only one who is hustling though. The “Blood and Oil” premiere as a whole watches like a Western saga on overdrive: the LeFevers flip from squatters to millionaires; Billy replaces Wick Briggs (Scott Michael Foster, “Greek”), the aptly-named antagonist, as Briggs’s surrogate son; Cody realizes she’s pregnant, all in the span of 45 minutes. The episode doesn’t fade at the finish either — mimicking a classic “Dallas” cliffhanger, it ends with a father-son-Billy brawl in the oil, a spark floating slowly towards them.
Dramatically, the show pulls all the stops. The problem is “Blood and Oil” can’t decide whether to be bloody or oily. Billy and Cody are too good-natured to be violent (after cashing Briggs’s check, they give $50,000 to a poor Nigerian couple that dreams of opening a restaurant) and too clean-cut to be sultry (their one romp in a trailer is like a PG-13 summer camp flick: all flannel and bubblegum kisses). The show doesn’t have familial stakes as high as the original “Dallas,” nor does it have the gritty, indulgent drama of shows like “Empire” or “Scandal.”
But maybe it’s these differences that make “Blood and Oil” intriguing nonetheless. It’s tapping into a new brand of soap opera, a millennial version of the American Dream: finding riches among ruins and remaining stubbornly optimistic about our values in life. While the show seems lackluster at a glance, like land out west, there may be a richness bubbling under its surface.