Review: ABC’s new dramas ‘Quantico’ and ‘Blood & Oil’ land varied punches
Sunday night is when television flexes its muscles, and this week ABC is rolling in a couple of brawny, noisy new contenders: “Blood & Oil” a melodrama set around the shale fields of North Dakota, and “Quantico,” a thriller involving a pack of new recruits to the FBI’s famous academy.
Each steps out with a busy pilot that covers a lot of ground in its commercial-pocked hour and ends promising a somewhat different show than first expected. Each has the creamy finish I associate with the network and nods toward 20th century genre films, more than to the real worlds they nominally portray. Each is more than a little nutty. One is better than the other.
After a brief opening scene of mass destruction (New York City, drubbed again), “Quantico” flashes back nine months to follow its young and good-looking cast as they head toward their new temporary home as trainee agents of the FBI. In their various complexions and complexes and social classes, they might, with a nip here and a tuck there, just as easily populate a high school comedy or a medical drama — indeed, if you come in a minute late, you might assume that you’re watching something like “Grey’s Anatomy” with guns.
There is the upper-crust blond (Johanna Braddy, recently excellent on “UnREAL”); the provocative brunet (Priyanka Chopra); the one who would have been the dangerous one in a boy band (Jake McLaughlin); the privileged jerk (Graham Rogers); the exotic outsider (Yasmine Al Massri); and the nerd, doing double duty as the gay one (Tate Ellington). Adult supervision, such as it is, comes in the form of administrator Aunjanue Ellis, the series’ heavy hitter (“The Help,” “Get On Up”), and instructor Josh Hopkins (“Cougar Town”), who have a past complicating their present.
None is what they seem, nor what they seem to seem. (That is, some surprisingly might turn out to be only what they seem.) They have secrets and scars and histories. Some are quickly revealed, others are teased. And at least one character you are going to be made to like will be a villain, but probably not the one who’s accused of it before the hour’s out. But maybe.
If hardly a moment feels plausible, the show has energy to spare and so many balls in the air by the end of the pilot that it’s hard not to want to see where they will come down.
And then there is “Blood & Oil.” With each new model of global warming more dire and fast-acting than the last, the idea of a series not only about the North Dakota oil boom, but about fracking specifically seems a strange one. Even stranger given the falling price of oil, though the project — co-created by Josh Pate (“Surface”) and novelist-journalist Rodes Fishburne — has reportedly been kicking around since 2011, when our collective handbasket was four years farther from hell.
Set in fictional Rock Springs, a stand-in for non-fictional Williston, N.D., the show has no interest in the actual sociology of the oil boom or the lot of the many whose labor fuels it. It just wants to get to the money, personified by oil baron Don Johnson and his younger baroness Amber Valletta; there is also Johnson’s troublesome son (Scott Michael Foster), who in the hoary way of these things will find himself challenged by clever surrogate son Chace Crawford, who reminds Johnson of himself as a young man — he says it, straight out.
Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse play newlyweds setting out on the “grand adventure of a lifetime” to open some laundromats in Rock Springs; this plan, which seems to consist entirely of showing up in town with a truckload of washing machines, runs literally off the road, to their quickly arriving eventual favor. This was never going to be a show about laundry.
It is, in its way, like an old pre-war MGM epic, the sort of goofy thing that would have starred Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy — except for starring any of those people or being written by Anita Loos and made at a time when a back lot and a soundstage could stand convincingly for the world.
“Blood & Oil” has been shot in the real world — the wrong real world, substituting the photogenic muscular mountains of Utah for the comparatively featureless plains of central North Dakota — without managing to look real at all. It has the aggressively prettified look, rather, of an ad for beer or a new Ford truck, and you sense that you are being sold something, rather than told a story, let alone the truth.
‘Blood & Oil’
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-PG-LSV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-DSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, sex and violence)
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