‘Blood Drive’ Review: Syfy’s Bloody Grindhouse Romp Is Both Silly & Scintillating

     June 13, 2017

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Like any good Grindhouse affair, Blood Drive is a cacophony of bloodshed, debauchery, and puerile humor, and it’s infinitely more fun than it’s actually good. Fortunately, it’s a lot of fun if you have the right disposition.

What is the Blood Drive? It’s a post-apocalyptic cross-country race that travels through all manner of supernatural subgenres with the basic hook of cars that run on human blood — and it’s rooted in the misadventures of a criminal corporation, Heart Enterprises.

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Image via Syfy

From creator James Roland, the series follows Grace D’Argento (Animal Kingdom’s Christina Ochoa), a mercenary femme fatale on a mission to win the Blood Drive, collect the cash, and jailbreak her younger sister from a shady mental institution. Joining her on her misadventures is LAPD officer Arthur Bailey, AKA “Barbie” (Alan Ritchson), a Ken Doll-looking sumbitch who’s got his own mission — bring down Heart — and who happens to be one of the last good cops in L.A.. When Arthur’s investigation leads him to the Blood Drive (and a whole lot of intel on Heart), he and Grace quickly become an unlikely (and initially unwilling) pair in the deadly event, chained to each other by a pair of exploding implants in their skulls. Once they’re linked (and after some early anal — for real), they put their individual skills and model hot looks to the test as they tear through one town after the next, taking down their ridiculously named competitors (Clown Dick, Fat Elvis, etc.) and discovering a wrecked America, with each town bringing new horrors. What do they find? Well, this show isn’t pulling any punches in the camp department. Along the way, the path leads to a town full of quaint cannibals, a mental institution overtaken by the mad, and “The Fucking Dead,” which I’ll let you discover for yourself. Essentially, it’s a rip-roaring ride through a bunch of bloody nonsense, and it’s equal part stupid and charming as hell.

At the same time, Arthur’s partner Christopher Carpenter (Thomas Dominique) is undergoing a series of perverse, rigorous tests and interrogations at Heart Industries, with emotionless sexbot Aki (Marama Corlett) drilling him for answers in every way possible. That sounds like a double entendre, but it’s really more of a quintuple entendre, as Christopher is subject to one grotesquerie after the next. Aside from laying the groundwork for a potential “man on the inside” at Heart, Christopher seems to exist only to be abused and exploited (his dick gets almost as many mentions as the Blood Drive itself), and while there’s the potential for interesting dynamics in the power play between him and Aki, he mostly functions as a sex object as the series seems intent on wringing as many bodily fluids out of him as possible. It’s my least favorite part of the show, but fortunately, it’s only a fraction of the absurdity that ensues.

Blood Drive is ridiculous. Straight up. You have to decide if you’re OK with that before going in. This is a series that’s committed to getting gross at every possible turn, with just enough interest in its characters to keep things interesting along the way. Along with Clown Dick, Fat Elvis, and our hero duo, there’s a serial killer couple trying to find their spark in a new murder spree, and The Gentleman and the The Scholar, a mismatched queer pair — one lovable one despicable — who are coping with their own intimacy issues. At the helm is Julian Slink (Colin Cummingham), the flamboyant gothic maestro who’s made his life’s work of the Blood Drive and takes all the ridiculousness quite seriously. All together, they’re rather an entertaining bunch, and they play off each other like gangbusters — especially as the world around them grows more outlandish with each new episode.

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Image via Syfy

That’s ultimately what makes Blood Drive so fun. The show fearlessly dashes through Grindhouse subgenres, and each one is a goofy, gory delight. Syfy has pulled off a really spectacular rebranding in recent years. With the days of Battlestar and Stargate behind them, the network struggled a bit with original programming for a while, and with the wildfire success of Sharknado, it became the go-to destination for B-movie fare. Since then, the network doubled down on their commitment to being the premier destination for genre television (and doubled down on their budgets while they were at it), and in turn, they’ve created  a string of high-quality sci-fi series like 12 Monkeys, The Expanse, Killjoys and Wynonna Earp. Blood Drive is very much a hybrid of those two models. It’s got that Roger Corman-esque high-camp silliness, with all the blood, bananas action, and body parts flying across the screen, but it’s also got the production value and self-awareness of their recent wave of programming wins.

Guillermo del Toro used to describe The Strain as Gazpacho — a light and refreshing piece of entertainment for the summer. Blood Drive is total Gazpacho. The puerile humor may grow wearying for some; the dick jokes are endless, and there seems to be no end to the way the series is comfortable exploiting its oh-so-pretty cast. And yet, there’s something endearing in the madness, especially as the series gives way to a greater mythology and surprising sci-fi tilt. There’s a mythology here, and I’m curious to see where it goes.

But you’ll know pretty fast if you’re going to make it that far. You’ll either like it, with a droll chuckle every time a new competitor’s head explodes in a pulpy mist, or you’ll straight up hate it. It’s certainly not a flawless show, and there’s not too much subtext to mine int he midst of the insanity. But if you can dig into the goofiness, there’s plenty of fun to be had. The cast walks an excellent line between tuned-in and too-cheeky, flaunting their toned abs and cut cheekbones as shamelessly as the show that hired them, while the series itself shamelessly veers through all manner of lewd and ludicrous territory. A lot of people will hate this show. I’m happy to be one of the people who loves it.

★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism

Blood Drive premieres Wednesday, June 14th on Syfy.

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