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'Blood & Oil' review: New Don Johnson series has only hints of 'Dallas'

"Blood and Oil," a prime-time soap new this

"Blood and Oil," a prime-time soap new this fall on ABC, stars "Gossip Girl" actor Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse of last year's "Red Band Society," plus Don Johnson of "Miami Vice," and more. Credit: ABC / Fred Hayes

THE SERIES "Blood & Oil"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday at 9 p.m. on ABC/7.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Newlyweds Billy (Chace Crawford) and Cody Lefever (Rebecca Rittenhouse) head to North Dakota to start a business in Rock Springs, a Wild West town in the midst of an oil boom, and kept in check (tenuously) by Sheriff Tip Hamilton (Delroy Lindo). At first, their dreams don't proceed as planned, until they meet the real "Baron of the Bakken" oil formation, Hap Briggs (Don Johnson), and his wife and partner, Carla (Amber Valletta).

MY SAY The last time anyone checked, there were no real mountains in North Dakota. Buttes (like the Killdeer Mountains), some canyons, lots of stirring, beautiful wide-open spaces, yes, but no mountains. There are mountains in "Blood & Oil."

This was shot in Utah, where the only oil to be found is the refined stuff at gas stations. Those mountains are a touch that TV likes to call "heightened" reality, or some element slathered on to the screen that no one's expected to believe anyway. Here they are meant to lend an epic touch to the proceedings.

That turns out to be a miscalculation because verisimilitude is what's already missing in most every scene anyway. Billy and his get-rich schemes? Cody's complicity in them? These tales from Sunday's pilot are taller than those mountains.

But, of course, who you really want to know about is Johnson, who's back in a leading role on a prime-time series for the first time since "Nash Bridges" ended in 2001. Those eyes are still blue daggers. That hair -- gray, swept back -- is a scenic landscape in its own right. He was made or TV, or TV was made for a star like him. But his Hap Briggs is all broad strokes and oil patch baloney. He's built on the rickety framework of a TV soap patriarch with son issues and married to a devious harridan who's really calling the shots.

Hap and Carla are certainly a great-looking couple, standing in the shadow of the North Dakota Rockies. What they're not is a heightened version of Blake and Alexis Colby Carrington, the sort of heights I was really hoping for here.


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