Alibi V.26 No.25 • June 22-28, 2017 

Idiot Box

Crash Course

“Blood Drive” on Syfy

Over the years Syfy has taken some odd detours through the admittedly broad landscape known as science fiction. We’ve seen fantasy (“The Magicians”), reality (“Monster Man,” “Face Off”) and way too much wrestling (“Extreme Championship Wrestling,” “NXT,” “WWE Smackdown”). Now, with its new series “Blood Drive,” Syfy veers into the uncharted realm of grindhouse exploitation.

This trashy-and-proud-of-it action drama takes place in the “distant future” year of 1999. The world is a dystopian nightmare with water and oil coming at a premium price. Cities are war zones. Police work has been privatized, and officers are allowed to mete out punishment as they see fit (shades of Judge Dredd). Our main character here is Arthur Bailey (Alan Ritchson, Aquaman on The CW’s “Smallville”), who appears to be the last good cop in Los Angeles. While tracking down some mysterious leads, our boy Arthur stumbles across an underground, over-the-top racing network in which colorful characters drive outlandish vehicles (fueled by human blood!) across the near-apocalyptic country. Of course, a cartoonish Cabaret-by-way-of-Beyond Thunderdome emcee (Colin Cunningham from “Falling Skies”) is there to provide running commentary. Naturally, organizers inject a miniature bomb into Officer Arthur’s neck and force him to team up with a lollipop-sucking gal in hot pants (Christina Ochoa from TNT’s “Animal Kingdom”) as part of this high-speed race to the death.

“Blood Drive” wears its influences on its sleeve—everything from the obvious (Roger Corman’s immortal Death Race) to the less well-known (Alex Orr’s micro-budget 2007 horrror comedy Blood Car). The show pretends to be a throwback to the drive-in era of the 1970s. In truth, series creator James Roland (a longtime production assistant-done-good) has probably spent way more time watching modern-day send-ups like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’ brilliant Grindhouse and David Sandberg’s ludicrously entertaining Kung Fury.

Herein lies the problem at the heart of “Blood Drive”: Is it a sincere, well-informed recreation of a bygone era/genre or is it simply a self-conscious stylistic rip-off? Well, Roland and his collaborators aren’t even close to the same category of filmmaking nerds/geniuses as Tarantino and Rodriguez. This is far closer in spirit to the cheapjack style of late-era Roger Corman. “Blood Drive” is silly and derivative. It’s the kind of show that doesn’t bat an eye at a convertible full of sexy teenage cheerleaders driving obliviously across the wasteland of near-future America, ripe for the inevitable slaughter. And its attempt to add cursing, partial nudity and gory violence to Syfy’s late-night lineup feels all-too-calculated. And yet ... as you watch gear-grinding cars with gaping metal maws under their hoods gobble up hapless victims, you kind of can’t help but talk yourself into the mood of it all.

The show’s pilot episode ended with the impossibly ridiculous spectacle of seeing our male and female anti-heroes racing across the finish line in slow motion while having ass-slapping sex behind the wheel of their unrealistically well-polished muscle car. (It was the only way to short-out those neck-mounted explosives—don’t ask.) Heck, if “Blood Drive” can come up with imagery that preposterous on a weekly basis, this may be the sort of guilty pleasure lovers of low-quality exploitation crave.

“Blood Drive” airs Wednesdays at 8pm on Syfy.