Here is the natural reaction to watching even just the first episode of “Blood Drive”: “This is seriously on ad-supported television?” Officially, Syfy isn’t subject to FCC rules, but what this weird-ass show gets away with goes well beyond anything you might have ever seen before.
At first, “Blood Drive” seems like a “Death Race 2000” riff with an important and bloody new angle, focusing on a cross-country car race across a dystopian America where all the cars are fueled by human blood.
But the premise pushes well beyond that basic twist. Let’s be completely clear here: The guys at Starz Standards and Practices would probably watch “Blood Drive” and say to themselves, “This seems a little excessive.” Hell, Quentin Tarantino or John Waters might blush.
And that’s by design. Created by James Roland (a first-time show creator whose previous credits include working as an assistant on “Weeds” and “Mad Men”), much of the suggested appeal of “Blood Drive” is based on the fact that it knows how gruesome, graphic and shameless it is. It’s, in fact, actively betting on that being the reason you might tune in…a point which is best illustrated by the trailer below.
When a show throws down that kind of gauntlet, it’s easy to write it off as cheap exploitation rather than anything actually substantial. And yet, there’s something about “Blood Drive” that pushes beyond this level.
This may be due to the show’s one major achievement: Its two leads prove pretty watchable. For those with a fondness for romance in absurd circumstances, “Blood Drive” wastes no time in throwing former cop Arthur (Alan Ritchson) and Grace (Christina Ochoa) together. (Both figuratively and literally, thanks to the machinations of plot.) Without this surprisingly interesting human connection, it’s easy to see this series falling apart, but Arthur and Grace’s partnership proves to be an essential anchor.
Beyond that, there’s a riveting explosion of creativity happening here. The word “grindhouse” invokes the proud tradition of ultra-violence and insanity associated with that term. But beyond that, the fact that out of nowhere, “Blood Drive” will invoke genre concepts like robots and zombies is fascinating, broadening the narrative beyond the central race and its more meta elements.
(There are a few sequences featuring Blood Drive master of ceremonies Slink, played by Colin Cunningham, negotiating with network executives over the content of his “program.” There is a joke about the Oxford comma in Episode 6 connected to this storyline that is pretty choice.)
Also notable is that there’s something resembling parity when it comes to the show’s treatment of men and women. Awful things happen to both genders, with nearly all the characters finding their bodies on display on a regular basis. At times, the sexual content is concealed with nothing more than an on-screen black box censoring the most naughty of the bits (a choice which is occasionally played for laughs).
Easily the most abused is Arthur’s former partner Christopher, played by Thomas Dominique, who finds himself in over his head when it comes to the conspiracy surrounding the Blood Drive, and as a result is subjected to some of the show’s most graphic moments. Are some of these sequences legitimately disturbing? Absolutely. Again, it’s worth noting that Syfy is more than fully owning how graphic and extreme this show is. In fact, Syfy included this link as part of the digital press kit, for those who “can’t handle the Blood Drive” — sample post:
As delightful as this Tumblr account is, it isn’t quite the palate cleanser you might hope for. Then again, if this is the kind of show you’re craving, you’re also not in need of a palate cleanser.
Based on the first six episodes — which are jam-packed with genre elements like the aforementioned robots and zombies, not to mention evil corporations, madhouses, incest, drug trips, cannibals, and a man-hating lady biker gang — “Blood Drive” delivers on at least one key promise: It is not boring. It’s a show for a very specific sort of audience, but for that audience, it could become a legit cult hit.
“Blood Drive” premieres Wednesday, June 14 at 10:00 p.m on Syfy.