Blood Drive, SyFy’s new series, isn’t a television show so much as a mashup of everything that’s ever offended the Parents Television Council. Shocking violence? You got it. Graphic sex? Naturally. Car engines that grind up whimpering human victims into high-octane fuel for a demented car race? That’s a new one, but it’s fairly easy to predict that L. Brent Bozell wouldn’t love it.
Created by James Roland, Blood Drive (which debuts Wednesday) is tweaked-out grindhouse, a cornucopia of shlock and gore that crams an estimable number of influences into each 40-minute episode: video games, dystopian sci-fi, George Miller, and the more depraved imaginings of Ryan Murphy. Set in the “distant future” of 1999, where oil costs $2,000 a barrel and law and order has mostly disintegrated thanks to the privatization of the police forces, the show stars Alan Ritchson as Arthur, a “good” cop working for “Contracrime.” (Their slogan: “We kill because we care.”)
After beating a tip out of a junkie, Arthur finds himself in a giant warehouse that’s the official start of the “meanest, nastiest, filthiest road race in the world” with a $10 million cash prize: the Blood Drive. No, it’s never explained how cars have been engineered to pulverize humans and convert them into an energy source, although the process isn’t exactly fuel-efficient, given how much bloods spurts everywhere every time another unlucky soul gets fed into the machine. Nor is it elaborated why the emcee, a steampunk Frank-N-Furter type named Julian Slink, chooses at this particularly filthy rave to play the French national anthem. Or where the drivers “Clown Dick” and “Bad Sushi” got their names. Perhaps some things are better left unsaid.
Against his will, Arthur is roped into joining the Blood Drive as the partner of Grace D’Argento (Christina Ochoa), a racer looking to claim the prize money to rescue her sister from an asylum. There are obstacles: mutant zombies, short-order cooks who’ve seen Sweeney Todd one too many times, the chips implanted in the backs of Arthur and Grace’s heads that electrocute them if they break protocol or drift too far away from each other. The (questionable) fact that those chips can be shorted by adrenaline surges contributes to the most memorable line from all 13 episodes: “Do me or die.”
At its best, Blood Drive is sloppy, silly, squirm-inducing fun, particularly when it focuses on the race. The acting is generally weak and the writing is awful, but the effects are slickly produced and the visuals consistently evoke the many grindhouse classics that inspired it. Roland, whose previous work includes production assistant gigs on Mad Men and Weeds, uses different episodes to pay homage to various subgenres (westerns, zombie flicks, toxic-mutant horror), and the format works better for some than for others. But his need to tie every calamity to a nefarious corporation called Heart Enterprises belabors the story. Not to mention the terribly longwinded subplot in which Arthur’s partner is brainwashed and sexually assaulted by a robot in a rubber corset.
With its “corporations have taken over the earth after climate change sparks societal breakdown” themes, Blood Drive resembles Incorporated, another recent SyFy show that was canceled after 10 episodes. But the moralizing nods to the consequences of fracking and the inhumanity of cutting mental-health funding go down less easily when they’re coming from a show that uses gagged-and-bound cheerleaders as set dressing. You can delight in the unending and imaginative depths of human depravity or you can preach about the evils of capitalism. Just maybe not both at the same time.