Blood and Oil: TV Review

Discovery Channel
Discovery's continual mining of strike-it rich stories has caused the network to finally strike out.

The docu-series' against-the-odds story of a small family business is regrettably more redneck than roughneck.

Blood and Oil, Discovery's latest "will this family strike it rich?" series follows the Cutter family of Ohio, who have run a small oil business for 30 years (given Discovery's love of gold -- Gold Rush, Bearing Sea Gold, Jungle Gold -- it's a wonder that the show wasn't titled "Black Gold"). After the death of the company's founder and family patriarch over a year ago, son CJ and the rest of the family have picked up the reins to keep the company going. Their main adversary, however, is "Big Oil," which has been buying up or leasing as much land as possible in the area to run the small businesses out.

There's a lot about Blood and Oil that screams redneck, not roughneck, though a few short interviews with some actual roughnecks who work for the Cutters is the best thing about the show so far. The roughnecks have harrowing stories and haunted looks, mixed with a calm acceptance of their lot. To spend more time with them would be an education, but unfortunately, viewers are thrown right back into the mix with the Cutters, who attempt to coin something called "Cutter Style," which essentially boils down to violence and drama.

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What makes Blood and Oil extraordinary is that it might be the only series that has ever made anyone root for Big Oil. Or at least, find someone else to play the villain. The show's de facto protagonist CJ is a loudmouth who yells constantly, schemes against his family and solves problems by demolishing things or getting his gun. "Dad would want us to turn up the crazy!" he repeats constantly in the first episode, but the rest of the family, who are quieter and possibly scared of him, make comments like, "CJ never turns the crazy off." 

Blood and Oil wants viewers to relate to the series' "David vs. Goliath" story, which is obvious because the Cutters say those exact words over and over again. The words "Big Oil" are also repeated every few seconds, both by CJ as well as the voice over narration. 

The show's format is also more stilted than most, with conversations that rarely feel like anything other than having been prompted and arranged. At one point, CJ decides to "wildcat" in his sister Kristin's backyard while she's out of town. Wildcatting means drilling on unproven land with potentially no payoff, and in this case, to the tune of half a million dollars. When Kristin returns to see earth movers, rigs and a 24-hour drilling operation 100 feet from her house, she does little more than calmly say "what the hell?" Even if you are in the oil business, surely that deserves more of a surprised expression. If someone had pulled something similar on CJ, he would have gone after them with a large excavator and a gun. 

Despite a tension-building soundtrack and quick jump cuts and editing, nothing can help the show rise out of its tedium. Late in the first episode, CJ decides to go "Cutter style" on the the family's 150-year-old farmhouse, long vacant, because some locals were hauling scrap from it. "They can't steal ash!" he declares, tearing the building down and lighting the heap on fire. "You should have told us about this," his mother says with a shrug as the family gathers to see CJ's handiwork. Against the backdrop of the flames, CJ says dramatically, "We're an American family on American land, and we need to get that American oil." The only image he conjures up with this obvious attempt at a stirring statement though, given what we've witnessed for the past hour, is a family resemblance not to hard-working Midwesterners, but to Squidbillies