In a sense, “Blood & Oil” is an expanded version of that “Twilight Zone” episode with William Shatner, where he and his wife have their car break down in a small town. Except the little devil coaxing the couple into staying here is the lure of big money, in the form of Don Johnson’s freewheeling oil baron, and a patchwork North Dakota boomtown that has sprung up around its pursuit. After that, this is just another attempt to update “Dallas,” meaning there will be blood and oil, yes, but also sex and a lot of jockeying for power.
The aforementioned couple, model-pretty newlyweds Billy (Chace Crawford) and Cody Lefever (Rebecca Rittenhouse), are actually driving merchandise through the state as part of a separate moneymaking scheme when their truck takes a “Fast & Furious”-worthy header. That leaves them scrounging for cash, receiving kindness from people in the tent city that has sprouted, and eventually staggering into a bar — overseen by the lovely Jules (India de Beaufort) — that could easily double as the set for “Coyote Ugly 2.”
Soon enough, though, they meet Johnson’s Hap Brings, a tough, self-made sort — the kind who can get away with a frat-boy name even in his later years — who is instantly drawn to Billy’s ambition and drive. “You got some brass ones on you, don’t you son?” he drawls as Billy seeks to engineer his way into a high-stakes deal.
By contrast, Hap is utterly disappointed by his own son, Wick (Scott Michael Foster), who exhibits a strong sense of rich-kid entitlement that rubs dad the wrong way. “You think I’m just gonna toss you the keys to the kingdom?” Hap snarls, setting up an ostensible struggle between his devotion to blood and to Billy, who he clearly sees as a younger version of himself.
Alas, pretty much everything in “Blood & Oil,” created by Josh Pate and Rodes Fishburne, has that kind of on-the-nose quality, with nary a surprise in the first hour. That includes a rather lousy cliffhanger, clearly designed to draw viewers further into the run, but which augers a warning of hackneyed plotting. (The series also has exhibited its share of behind-the-scenes drama in terms of the producers who will be running it.)
Admittedly, ABC has done pretty well, if not always struck black gold, with this genre of soap, and Johnson has gracefully aged into the patriarch role. The negatives would be the absence, at first blush, of another character with much breakout potential, although keep an eye on “Revenge” alum Amber Valletta as Hap’s equally steely wife.
Wealth and the allure of it have always been a fertile backdrop, including the various reality TV shows currently chronicling macho get-rich-quick endeavors, but creatively speaking, “Blood & Oil” doesn’t exactly tap into the mother lode. And initially, anyway, the program hasn’t taken to heart the homespun wisdom that Hap would surely dispense — namely, go big, or go home.