I hate to break it to you, but Sleepy Hollow is not a good show. It’s a hilariously ridiculous show that is also more entertaining than it has any right to be. But it’s so, so, so very not good. There’s just no way it could be. It’s so completely out there, Bryan Fuller couldn’t even make the concept work. If they shed some of the more crazytown bananapants aspects, or, hell, just fully committed to them, they might have something. But they won’t, making Sleepy Hollow dead man walking. This show won’t see the end of its seven year tribulation, no matter how strongly it hints at it.
Every kid who grew up in America knows the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (probably from the Disney version, but whatever). Written by Washington Irving in 1820, the short story tells of Ichabod Crane, a stuffy schoolmaster vying for the heart of the lovely Katrina against Gaston-wannabe Brom Bones. After a harvest party at Katrina’s, Ichabod is chased by a headless horseman into a covered bridge. Ichabod is never seen again, and Brom Bones spends the rest of his life trying not to look suspicious whenever anyone mentions Ichabod’s inexplicable disappearance. Well, you might as well forget that story because Sleepy Hollow is about as close to Irving as a fudgsicle is to cake.
Tom Mison (dreamy Mr. Bingley from Lost in Austen) is Ichabod Crane, Cambridge professor-cum-redcoat-cum-American Revolutionary spy-cum-bewitched Rip Van Winkle-cum-dude with a really bad haircut. George Washington sends him on a mission to save the world by battling a faceless mercenary with a bow and arrow brand on his hand that is apparently so visible and obvious that anyone can see it from 50 paces, day or night. Ichabod beheads him and gets himself mortally wounded in the process. Witchy wife Katrina decides it’s better to put her husband in a permanent coma than to kill HH—they share some asininely explained blood bond...basically, whither goest Ichabod, so will HH, and vice versa. Abracadabra Rip Van Winkle and suddenly Ichabod wakes up in 2013 when someone starts pulling HH’s strings.
Deputy Sheriff Lt. Mills (Nicole Beharie) is the unfortunate witness to her boss’ execution—the second by HH after he wakes from his underwater nap—and because of some traumatising childhood incident with some trees, she believes Ichabod’s ludicrous story in spite her reservations. Turns out her late boss also had a notion of some seriously sinister stuff going down in Sleepy Hollow. Mills and Crane team up, and it looks like the show plans to use the Monster of the Week format to kill time between the bigger mythological set pieces. If that’s not enough to wet your whistle, there’s also the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, George Washington fighting to prevent the End of Times, dueling witch covens, a creepy reverend, and a demon with a tree fetish. I gave up trying to make sense of it all pretty early on. All that was left was for someone to start screaming about Nazi clocks.
After the first 10 minutes, I felt like I had missed 30 minutes of exposition. Things just keep happening with no logical connections and everyone seemed totally OK with it. The Headless Horseman kills a cop and two seconds after Mills calls it in, John Cho nearly runs over Ichabod ALL THE WAY ACROSS TOWN and decides he absolutely has to be the killer. I...what? Then, all of a sudden, there’s a solid five minutes of Ichabod spilling his entire personal life story, and about five minutes after that he does it again. Then Mills explains her background in vivid flashback detail. AND THEN a dead cop spends another five minutes telling his life story. So much infodumping.
This single episode has a good four separate mythologies and storylines crammed together and forcibly intertwined, logic be damned. 40 minutes of hocus pocus jibber jabber that look great on screen but don’t stand up to anything beyond shrugging acceptance. There’s laying the foundation for season-long and series-long mythology, and then there’s whatever insanity is going on in the Sleepy Hollow writers’ room. On the other hand, the show’s creators are Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the guys behind, among other things, Fringe, Hawaii Five-O, and Cowboys and Aliens. *sigh*
What saves the show are the characters. No, scratch that. The actors. Nicole Beharie blew my socks off. Where has she been all these years (besides being jaw droppingly stellar in Shame)? Why isn’t she cast in every thing? She takes an overused stock character—The Scully—and imbues her with humor, personal strength, and depth. None of that comes from the script, mind. It’s all Beharie. Mills is a trope that practically defines “cliche,” but Beharie gives her the spark of life, just as Mison does for Ichabod.
Tom Mison plays Ichabod just perfectly. Anyone else might make have him a sniveling prude or an arrogant douchecanoe, but Mison plays him with peevish charm. Every line drips with bone dry sarcasm and a hefty dose of put-uponness that manages to somehow not be obnoxious. I can picture these characters outside the show, hanging out at a Starbucks, just chatting. The chemistry is palpable but platonic. If the show lasts long enough for the writers to chance turning their friendship into romance, I hope to Hera they don’t. They’re great friends already. I’d hate to see that ruined for some February Sweeps sex.
I can’t tell if this show is going to be really bad or really good. It’s not sustainable as is, but pilot episodes rarely hit it out of the park. As it stands, it’s too campy to be the next Supernatural but not campy enough to be the next The Cape. Then again, Grimm is somehow still on the air despite being incredibly eye rolling and with the most boring leads on television, so you never know. I’ll definitely keep watching, at least until it collapses under the weight of its own absurdities. But the real question here is should you watch Sleepy Hollow? The Headless Horsemen has a shoot out with a machine gun. If that isn’t reason enough, then I don’t know what is.
- “Excellent. This day continues to bear gifts.” Ichabod may be a time traveler, but he’s also the sass master.
- “First I shot him, then he rose back up. Cutting off his head seemed the next logical step.”
- Clancy Brown! Oh. Em. Gee.
- What the heck is with the sparks? Is that supposed to indicate magic or did the production designer have some Fourth of July leftovers taking up garage space? Knock it off Sleepy Hollow. It’s really stupid looking.
- If Katrina was burned for witchcraft, why was she (supposedly) buried in a church cemetery? And why is her headstone in mint condition after 250 years?
- When Ichabod made the connection between the Headless Horseman and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I exclaimed the exact same thing as Mills: “Come on!”
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.