Tag Archives: Blood Drive

Dystopian blues

The television landscape is awash with series set in alternative – and not particularly bright – futures. Stephen Arnell casts his eye over the dystopian series on screen, and also finds sci-fi series with a more optimistic outlook.

All-conquering AI, robots that are more human than human, apps that can mimic any possible experience, egomaniacal billionaires searching for eternal life, a world wreathed in perpetual smog, unstoppable viruses, re-animated corpses, Nazi victors in the Second World War and the knock on the door from black-garbed members of the secret police.

Sound familiar?

One would think that in a world with Donald J Trump as US president, Brexit, North Korea, Russia, global warming, cyber warfare and other woes, viewers would be looking for escapist entertainment. But perhaps counter-intuitively, the vision of an even more dire future provides some comfort in the present.

Dystopian drama has become a major TV trend over recent years, and it’s showing no sign of stopping, although there are some signs of possible fatigue, with lacklustre audiences in the UK for SS-GB (BBC1, 2017), Channel 4’s Electric Dreams (2017-18) and the recent Hard Sun (BBC1, 2018).

All had very different themes. SS-GB envisioned a Nazi occupation of the UK, Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on the work of hard sci-fi author Philip K Dick and Hard Sun was a police thriller set in a pre-apocalypse London.

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams didn’t perform as well as Channel 4 would have hoped

In terms of the BBC1 dramas, it could be said that the rather bleak material was better suited to sister channel BBC2, while the hit-and-miss nature of portmanteau series such as Electric Dreams are known to sometimes struggle to find audiences – with the obvious exception of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (the former C4 show now at home on Netflix).

In the US, Syfy’s Incorporated (2016-17), a Matt Damon/Ben Affleck production set in a US ruled by corporations folded after one season, as did the channel’s exploitation Death Race homage Blood Drive (2017).

Are we approaching ‘peak dystopia?’ Not just yet. In fact, not by a long chalk.

It must be noted that anticipation was high for the second seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) and Westworld (HBO), both of which premiered recently and have been well received. Viewers are now eagerly awaiting season three of The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), while Black Mirror goes from strength to strength, with filming on season five beginning recently. And AMC’s future feudal Samurai-style society drama Into the Badlands returned in April for a third run.

Netflix’s Brazilian sci-fi series 3% deals with a world very much divided into the haves and have-nots; after favourable reactions to 2016’s debut run, the drama returned for season two on April 27.

On cable, dystopian series continue to thrive. The 100 (The CW) returned for a fifth season on April 24, The Colony came back for a third run on May 2 and Van Helsing (Syfy) had a third season order in December 2017.

Netflix’s The Rain focuses on a virus carried by precipitation

Netflix’s Altered Carbon (pictured top) launched to mixed reviews this February – there was high praise for the set design and production values but it was also criticised by some as owing too much to Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (1982) and for objectifying its female characters.

Weeks after Altered Carbon dropped, Netflix also released two dystopian movies – Duncan Jones’s generally slated Mute (which shared a similar visual palate to Altered Carbon) and Alex Garland (Ex Machina)’s well-reviewed Annihilation – which may have been overkill in such a short space of time.

Data from Parrot Analytics suggests the budget-busting Altered Carbon’s patchy performance could make a sophomore season unlikely.

This year will see new dystopian drama on our screens in addition to returning series. Last week, continuing its interest in the genre, Netflix dropped the Danish thriller The Rain, which is being touted by some as its answer to The Walking Dead, except with a distinct young-adult skew.

The show is set after a brutal virus wipes out most of the population, as two young siblings embark on a perilous search for safety.

The fact the virus is spread through precipitation has led some to draw somewhat unfortunate comparisons to Chubby Rain, the fictional ‘film within a film’ in the Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy comedy Bowfinger.

Netflix Brazilian original 3% recently returned for a second season

ABC’s The Crossing, meanwhile, debuted on April 2. The show centres on an influx of refugees in present-day Oregon, but with the twist that they are from a war-torn USA, 180 years in the future.

Starring Steve Zahn (War for the Planet of the Apes, Treme), The Crossing debuted with a modest 5.5 million viewers, with audiences declining for subsequent episodes.

On May 19, HBO will premiere its feature-length version of Fahrenheit 451, an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic that depicts a totalitarian society where books are outlawed and burned by ‘firemen.’

Fahrenheit 451 takes its title from the autoignition temperature of paper. The book was last adapted for the screen in 1966 by French auteur filmmaker Francois Truffaut and was his only English-language movie. HBO’s version boasts a stellar cast including Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) and Michael B Jordan (Black Panther). Shannon has previously worked with Fahrenheit 451 director Ramin Bahrani on the award-winning foreclosure drama 99 Homes (2014).

On the horizon from Fremantle’s UFA Fiction (Deutschland 83) is Kelvin’s Book, from art-house film writer/director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Hidden). An English-language project, the 10×60′ series tells the story of a group of young people in the not-too-distant future who are “forced to make an emergency landing outside of their home and are confronted with the actual face of their home country for the first time.”

Michael Shannon (left) and Michael B Jordan in Fahrenheit 451

Next year sees the debut of Amazon Prime Video/Liberty Global’s London-set series The Feed, which “centres on the family of the man who invented an omnipresent technology called The Feed. Implanted into nearly everyone’s brain, The Feed enables people to share information, emotions and memories instantly. But when things start to go wrong and users become murderous, they struggle to control the monster they have unleashed.”

Guy Burnet, Nina Toussaint White, David Thewlis and Michelle Fairley will star in the psychological thriller, which will be distributed by All3Media International.

One new project that many spectators now believe may never make it to the screen is HBO’s Confederate, as creators David Benioff and DB Weiss (Game of Thrones) are now on board the Star Wars franchise – and the show’s concept of a continuing Southern slave-owning state has proved highly controversial in the current US political climate.

FX has recently ordered a pilot of Y: The Last Man, set in a world with only one surviving male – with strong production credentials from co-showrunners Michael Green (Logan, Bladerunner 2049, American Gods) and Aida Mashaka Croal (Turn, Luke Cage).

Israeli VoD service/cablenet HOT TV will debut Autonomies this year, which imagines the present-day country divided by a wall into two Jewish states – secular in Tel Aviv and ultra-orthodox in Jerusalem.

And to round off the dystopian shows in development, Amazon recently announced a series based on William Gibson’s The Peripheral, set in a bleak not-too-distant future (and beyond), with the Westworld team of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan as showrunners.

Seth McFarlane’s The Orville serves up more lighthearted sci-fi fare

Syfy’s 2015 miniseries adaptation of Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End must take the prize for one of the most downbeat endings ever – concluding as it does in the total destruction of the Earth, after the planet’s mutated psychic children have been subsumed into an all-powerful alien ‘overmind.’

But lest we fall into total despair, it should be recognised that there are actually a few sci-fi TV dramas that depict a future that isn’t unrelentingly grim.

The Star Trek franchise is notable for showing an optimistic view of the times to come, with mankind becoming a force for good in the galaxy after (with notable exceptions such as Harry Mudd) curbing its greed and war-mongering.

Seth McFarlane’s affectionate Trek tribute The Orville (Fox) also has rosier take on the future, whileNetflix’s Lost in Space reboot has a not-entirely-pessimistic vision of humanity in the 21st century.

Hulu/Ch4’s upcoming Beau Willimon-scripted Martian colony drama The First (starring Sean Penn and Natasha McElhone) appears to promise a relatively upbeat approach, or at least one that’s not tipped totally in the direction of dystopian misery.

The long-running Stargate SG1 and its spin-offs portrayed a universe that was inhabited by at least a few alien species willing to befriend mankind rather than instantly vaporise Earth.

Meanwhile, Doctor Who (BBC1) generally takes a more upbeat road, as befits its family audience. Although end-of-the-world scenarios and alien domination feature frequently, the Doctor usually conveys a positive attitude, occasionally (in some incarnations) to the point of what some may deem mania.

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Baying for Blood

Blood Drive might be the most extreme, bloody and downright original drama of the year. DQ chats to star Christina Ochoa about playing the femme fatale in Syfy’s Grindhouse thriller.

As another episode of Blood Drive gears up, the continuity announcer describes the series as “Grindhouse with heart.” That’s just one way to describe what is arguably television’s boldest and most daring drama of the year.

Ostensibly a series that follows a group of drivers taking part in a high-octane car race, Top Gear this isn’t. In reality, it’s a high-octane thrill ride set in a near-apocalyptic future, as LA’s last good cop is forced to join a twisted, cross-country death race in which cars are fuelled by blood.

As the 13-episode season progresses, Officer Arthur Bailey attempts to uncover the shady dealings of the mega-corporation behind the race, while his partner, dangerous femme fatale Grace D’Argento, has her own agenda – finding her missing sister.

Christina Ochoa with co-star Alan Richson in Blood Drive

Pushing production design to the extreme, the highly stylised series is billed as being among the first to bring the cinematic trend of Grindhouse movies to television, channeling the tone and visual style of 1970s movies that blended action and horror with gratuitous sex and violence – and enough blood to ensure every character is covered from head to toe in the red stuff by the end of each episode.

True to the genre, Blood Drive also doesn’t take itself too seriously. Commissioning network Syfy describes it as “over the top” in its own press material. There are also jokes littered through the script, while a mock advert for Smax, a drug-spiked candy brand at the heart of one particularly murderous episode, warns that eating it may cause migraines, night sweats, restless legs, schizophrenia, spontaneous human combustion, brain liquidation and homicidal tendencies – to name a few.

It’s a show that is markedly different to anything else on television right now – American Horror Story on steroids, with flesh-eating cars – and that’s why it appealed to star Christina Ochoa, who plays Grace, opposite Alan Richson’s Officer Bailey. The show also includes a star turn from Colin Cunningham as race ringmaster Julian Slink.

“I love being part of something truly different,” Ochoa says of the series, currently airing on Syfy UK and distributed by NBCUniversal Television Distribution. “It’s unlike anything else out there. [Creator] James Roland really took a risk and we were all excited to be a part of that.”

The Grindhouse-style show focuses on a deadly car race

Is Ochoa a fan of the Grindhouse genre? “I am now,” she admits.

Determined and ruthless, Grace acts as the viewer’s guide through the warped world of Blood Drive as Arthur must quickly get up to speed with the dangers that await him and his race partner on the road ahead. When her blood-red Chevrolet Camaro runs out of fuel in episode one, she has no problem feeding another human to her hungry engine.

“She’s unapologetic and I love that,” Ochoa says. “She’s at peace with her darkness and that’s a concept that’s very appealing to explore as an actress. Along the way, we learn how love, be it family or romantic, gets her back in touch with her own humanity.”

Filmed on location in Cape Town, South Africa, the actor says the make-up team faced the daily task of covering up her “dozens” of bruises, as she insisted on doing as many of her own stunts as possible. “Physicality aside, the biggest challenge was probably making sure the relationships were very grounded,” she says, “since the characters themselves are known archetypes and pretty extreme, like the good cop and femme fatale.”

US television this year has been notable for the number of strong female characters leading drama series, from Feud, Scandal and The Good Fight to the ensemble casts of Game of Thrones, Top of the Lake: China Girl and Big Little Lies. Top of the Lake’s Elisabeth Moss also took centre stage as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, this week picking up the best actress Emmy for her performance in a series that was also named best drama series.

It’s a trend that hasn’t gone unnoticed by actors in those roles, with Blood Drive’s Grace among the most fearless female characters on television. Ochoa notes: “I’ve been very lucky to be cast in roles as strong, powerful, intelligent and confident women. Renn (in TNT’s Animal Kingdom), Grace and Nora (in The CW’s forthcoming Valor) are all women I admire in some way, despite their coping mechanisms or their faults. They own their mistakes and they are all fighters. I’m proud to be part of a community that is striving to represent women in such a strong light.”

Ochoa also stars in The CW’s Valor

Speaking of Valor, the series, which debuts in the US on October 9, is part of the latest television trend – military dramas. Others launching on broadcast networks this fall include NBC’s The Brave and CBS’s SEAL Team. Cable channel History’s own Navy SEAL drama Six has also been renewed for a second season.

In Valor, Ochoa plays warrant officer Nora Madani, one of the first female helicopter pilots within an elite US Army unit called the Shadow Raiders. When the team is sent on a top-secret mission to Somalia, only Nora and Captain Leland Gallo (Matt Barr) return, leading to questions about what really happened. But while an investigation delves deeper into the mystery, they must also prepare for a new mission to rescue a soldier being held by terrorists.

Ochoa says it was Valor’s script, written by creator Kyle Jarrow, that drew her to the part, describing it as “one of the strongest I’ve read in a very long time.” She continues: “Leave it up to a playwright to craft such a wonderfully fleshed-out character with a woven story and conflict that defies all tropes. I fell in love with her immediately.”

The actor – who is also a published science academic and podcaster – carried out a lot of research for the part. “I read as much as I could – biographies, books like Shoot Like a Girl, Ashley’s War and Black Hawk Down – but what was most instrumental was the conversion with female vets, two of whom are writers on the show, and our technical advisor Dan Laguna,” she says.

Blood Drive won’t be returning for a second season, but if Valor proves to be a hit and earns a full-season commission, the show is likely to keep Ochoa busy for the rest of the year – and potentially years to come. But beyond acting, Ochoa also has her eye on creating series.

“I have a production company and my producing partner and I are currently developing content with writers and other talent,” she adds. “Producing is definitely something I’d like to do in the long run.”

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