TV Review: FOX’s Sleepy Hollow
By Amber Topping
Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison).
THE SHOW: Sleepy Hollow
THE CAST: Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane and Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills
WHEN: Mondays 9/8c
Based loosely on Washington Irving’s short story, the new FOX urban fantasy series Sleepy Hollow begins in the midst of the American Revolution in 1781 when Ichabod Crane (a handsome British defector, rather than the insecure schoolteacher) cuts off the head of his opponent (with the mysterious symbol on his hand) after he himself has been severely wounded. The young soldier collapses only to wake up a few centuries later in modern day. Unfortunately, somehow the Headless Horseman has also been awakened, and supernatural horror ensues.
For anyone familiar with the short story, you’ll realize pretty quickly that this is not going to resemble the famous tale at all. Instead of a love triangle where the schoolteacher Crane disappears suspiciously (probably by the other guy), revolutionary soldier Ichabod is transported to the future to help solve mysterious supernatural crimes with his soon to be partner in crime, local cop Abbie Mills. Of course in the background there will be the ever looming mythology. Certainly this setup will give the writers plenty of material to work with.
The pilot episode is stuffed heavily with exposition to let you know exactly what is going on. After Crane finds himself in the future and disoriented by the process (his reactions to his new surroundings and his acceptance of it all just a little bit too easy and convenient), the show switches narrative over to Abbie Mills. She’s out having dinner with her partner when they receive a call to check out some spooked horses in the area. When they arrive, instead of coyotes, they find murder. Tragically, her partner is killed by the headless horseman, leaving Abbie as the sole witness.
Soon Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills pair up to try and stop the headless horsemen only to uncover a conspiracy that goes as far back as the American Revolution.
So far Sleepy Hollow has received mixed reviews and understandably so; is the show horrible? No. But it isn’t great either. For a series co-created by the Fringe and Star Trek writers it’s a bit of a letdown. Perhaps that’s part of the problem; high expectations. I certainly began the episode in excited anticipation since I loved Fringe all the way to the end. But instead I stumbled into a mediocre one with a lot of issues.
There’s a lot of promise here for the show to become interesting and addicting. The writers have cleverly set up a secret division in the town reminiscent of the politics behind the Salem Witch Hunts. There are witches, some good and others bad who are fighting amidst the promise of a biblical apocalypse. Not to mention the frightening presence of a headless horseman who is in fact one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
I really liked how the story connected, in a National Treasure kind of way, founding father George Washington to the whole mystery and mythology. Ichabod Crane knew him well and served under him. Is Washington one of the men behind sending Crane to the future? One can only hope he will remain a presence in the series as the show continues.
One of my favorite parts of the episode was the introduction of the witches. Crane’s wife (yes her name is actually Katrina like in Irving’s story) is in fact one of the good witches who helped preserve Ichabod. She’s still alive, trapped in a mystical forest which works as a prison. She can appear to Crane giving him guidance and answers to what is going on. Personally I found Katrina to be interesting. But then I’ve always enjoyed stories about good witches. What mysteries will she continue to unfold? And how will it connect to the witches, both good and bad, in present day? I look forward to who will turn out to be a witch in the town. And I especially look forward to more of Katrina.
What makes Sleepy Hollow work on some level is Tom Mison in the lead as Ichabod Crane. He’s no geeky schoolteacher and in this I have absolutely no objection. Mison is memorable and charismatic in the role bringing likeability to the character and it’s easy to root for him. He delivers lines with an edge of dry humor that will only continue to improve as the series continues. As the confident and brave Ichabod Crane, he was the perfect choice.
What Didn't Work
I may be alone in this opinion, but I wasn’t sold on Nicole Beharie’s performance. She wasn’t awful per se, she just didn’t stand out. I don’t know if this was due to the weak characterization behind the character of Abbie, the fact that her dialogue was over the top in exposition or if the actress just needs more time to settle into the role. When her partner died, I didn’t buy her grief. In fact, I felt no real emotion in connection to her character at all. She did have some good moments. I especially liked her reaction to Crane about slavery. That said, while I wanted to like her, as of yet I’m more neutral. This may change in upcoming episodes but so far I haven’t bought into Abbie as a character.
One part that really bothered me was Abbie’s back story; when she revealed to Crane that she had a previous unexplained experience with her sister, I was imagining something really strange. Especially since it was pointed out that everyone thought she and her sister were crazy, which then in turn drove her sister to mental instability. But, no, in fact all it was is that when they were young girls, they walked through the forest, saw four strange white trees, heard whispering and then passed out; a little underwhelming at best.
I don’t know about anyone else, but couldn’t this just be explained as the active imagination of two girls frightened in the woods? Sure, we as the audience know it’s more than that but the characters don’t. Certainly it’s hard to imagine this experience would cause other people to think these two kids were crazy. I just didn’t buy it. Now if they had seen actual monsters or something a little bit bigger then maybe. But they just heard whispers and saw four white trees.
Another weak factor of the pilot was too much exposition. There was too much given away too quickly as a way to try and hook the audience. I don’t know, maybe this tactic will work in their favor in the long run, but for me it left the episode feeling overly clichéd. A good example of this again goes back to Abby’s back story. When Abby reveals to Crane what happened to her as a child, I didn’t really buy her motivation for being so open about her past so quickly to him. Mostly it was because of the clunky dialogue used to present it. The scene felt unnatural and didn’t flow making it hard for me to connect to the two characters as a pair.
Which brings me to my next point: I kept hearing about the amazing chemistry between Mison and Beharie and was really looking forward to watching them on screen together. But I just didn’t see or feel their chemistry at all. There was no sizzle. Perhaps part of my problem was going into the pilot after having watched an episode of The X Files (I’ve been slowly re-watching on Netflix). No one can deny the palpable chemistry between Scully and Mulder which you could feel even in the first episode. The chemistry between Abbie and Crane may be there, but in comparison to Scully and Mulder they made me want to yawn. I felt the onscreen connection between Abbie and Crane to be weak and worse, forced.
That said this could in fact be in part due to the writing. Their chemistry could easily improve in future episodes and I’m certainly willing to give them a chance especially with the entertaining premise and the “usually” good writers.
A mystical Bible, a mysterious map that belonged to George Washington, warring witches, supernatural creatures, a charismatic lead, etc…will hardly make this show boring. Certainly there will be many twists and turns on the horizon especially of who in the town is on the good side, the bad, or those like Abbie who are just in the dark about the whole thing. So, despite some pitfalls, I will give the show a few more episodes for it to find its footing. After all, many shows begin rough and then find their voice a few episodes in. This might be one of those shows. There are talented writers on the team and they have all the elements for a fantastic series. Right now it’s at least entertaining. The potential is there and I will be tuning in next week. Don’t be surprised if a month from now I’ll suddenly be going off about how it’s my favorite show.
If you missed Sleepy Hollow, FOX is re-airing the pilot episode this Friday at 9/8c.
What did you think of Sleepy Hollow? Are you going to tune in next week? Sound off below…
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