Review: “Sleepy Hollow” 1.01 and 1.02

Right off the bat, you may be wondering why we didn’t review episode one last week when it first aired.  A television show’s pilot isn’t always indicative of the tone of the show as it’s filmed months before (for network television, at least), with longer production times, bigger budgets, and sometimes even different cast members.  So I thought it best to wait until episode two to really decide how I felt about “Sleepy Hollow,” the new television series airing on Fox.

“Non-Spoiler” posters for episodes one and two, by comic artist Francesco Francavilla.

“Sleepy Hollow” is the new television show from co-creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the “Star Trek” and “Transformers” franchises, “Fringe”). The concept is that Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) is injured during the revolutionary war, and wakes up in modern times.  Unfortunately, also appearing around the same time is his nemesis, the Headless Horseman, who goes on a murderous rampage in present-day Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod joins with Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, “42,” “The Good Wife,” “Shame”), a young cop who has her own supernatural experiences.

I’m a HUGE fan of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  After Beowulf, it’s probably the piece of literature I’ve re-read the most.  So I’m always interested in seeing interpretations of the characters.  Disney’s classic animated short is probably my favorite, just from sheer adherence to the original material.  Of course, Tim Burton’s flawed Sleepy Hollow movie is one I return to every year around Halloween, primarily for the visual flair that it has.  It has the right feel, if not necessarily the best writing.

So a new interpretation, as a television show? Got my pretty psyched. And though the concept is a little crazy (Ichabod vs the Headless Horseman in modern day), I went in with an open mind.  The creative team or Kurtzman and Orci has done some great work with the Star Trek and “Fringe” stuff, and the pilot was to be directed by Len Wiseman, director of Underworld, the Total Recall remake, and the pilot of “Hawaii Five-O,” which was pretty great.  So really it had a lot going for it.

And while “Sleepy Hollow” isn’t quite the home run I was hoping it would be, it’s still a pretty darn good show.  The first episode, wisely, focuses on introducing the Headless Horseman who will be what appears to be a regular villain for the show and, perhaps most importantly, doesn’t waste time setting up the show’s mythology.  Too often (though less nowadays), mystery’s are set up in the pilot without an actual plan as to their payoff.  On top of that, we as viewers typically have to wait an entire season (or more) until we finally understand “what it all means.”

Not so with “Sleepy Hollow.” Though there are multiple outstanding questions (why did Ichabod sleep for 250 years? What happened to Katrina?), the main crux of the show’s mythology is laid out without subtlety.  The Horseman is one of the Four Horseman of legend, and Crane and Mills are destined to battle the evil for seven years (seven, really?) and prevent the apocalypse.

Main actors Mison and Beharie do a great job in their roles, providing the necessary chemistry for an ongoing team-up, though (thankfully) we seem to be avoiding any romantic chemistry, which I’m okay with.  We get Clancy Brown, Orlando Jones, and John Cho in supporting roles and though I found it pretty odd that the latter two (known for being great at comedy) literally have no humor whatsoever in the show, they do a great job supporting the leads.  Cho specifically does a bang up job as the “Renfeld” of the series, the guy who helps the baddies, while some horrible things happen to him physically and mentally.

The aforementioned mythology is a strong selling point for me – I’m digging the connection to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and find that it creates a story-rich environment that, should the ratings support, the series could mine for years.  Seven though…not so sure.  I’ve grown impatient to shows that spin their wheels to intentionally delay payoff.

Though Wiseman only directed the first episode, he set the tone of the series in such a way that the second episode took it and ran with it without feeling like it was directed by someone different.  The shows feels like it was filmed in the fall (though I’m positive it wasn’t), which helps add to the overall horror element they’re going for.  Not only that, the creature design is well done, thankfully keeping the monsters a little obscured so as to leave a little to the imagination.  The first episode actually had a scene (near the end) that made me jump, which almost never happens during television shows.

The show could use a little bit more of the humor/quirkiness that will help it stand out from shows like “Fringe,” “Grimm,” and “Supernatural.”  In fact, I’d say the show very much feels like a combination of the first two, and John Noble becoming a regular cast member (recently announced) will do nothing to help distinguish the two.

“Sleepy Hollow” is creepy, well-written, well-directed, and interesting.  I’d recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of the shows mentioned above, or looking for a new TV show to scratch that supernatural itch.

“Sleepy Hollow” airs Monday nights on Fox.  More information can be found at the official site.

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