Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

What's it about? Sleepy Hollow's a fantasy thriller that concerns Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a soldier who beheads a masked horseman during a skirmish in 1781, only to wake up in present-day Sleepy Hollow to continue his duel with the now 'headless horseman', aided by Deputy Sheriff Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie).

Who's involved? Sleepy Hollow's a "modern-day retelling" of Washington Irving's classic short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, written in 1820, so he gets some credit. This TV series is created by writing partners Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Fringe, Transformers, Star Trek Into Darkness), Phillip Iscove and Len Wiseman (director of Underworld, Die Hard 4.0 and the Total Recall remake)--who also directs this pilot. It stars English actor Tom Mison (Parade's End, Lost in Austen), Nicole Beharie (42, Shame), Orlando Jones (Evolution), Katia Winter (Dexter), and John Cho (Harold & Kumar, Star Trek), with guest-star Clancy Brown (Carnivale).

What's good about it? It's wantonly ridiculous and mixes in all manner of half-baked ideas. The basic concept certainly has merit, as Sleepy Hollow reminded me a great deal of Steve Miner's 1989 horror Warlock (where Richard E. Grant played a medieval witch-hunter transported to the present in pursuit of a warlock played by Julian Sands). This is that same idea, only with a less charismatic villain (headless characters aren't particularly expressive or vocal), mixed with elements from Irving's source material and a dash of The X Files once Abbie realises her predecessor secretly catalogued unsolved local mysteries of the spooky persuasion. Throw in a dash of Les Visiteurs-style comedy with fish-out-of-water Crane (as he grapples with flash-lights, lie-detectors, and car electric windows) and the potential for Kate & Leopold-y romantic sparks between Ichabod and Abbie.

Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie make for a likeable screen duo, although only the former makes a big impression because his performance is nicely restrained and good fun. I hope future episodes mine the comedy of Ichabod adjusting to the modern world more, though, because that wasn't given enough screen-time in this pilot before the Headless Horseman mythology took over. The Ichabod/Abbie banter also needs to get spicier, if we're to wholly enjoy watching this quirky pair delve into the county's paranormal mysteries each week.

What's bad about it? Sleepy Hollow is such a grab-bag of clich├ęd ideas that its sheer unoriginality sucked the life out of things for me, although it's hard not to be entertained by a concept this daft. There's a Headless Horseman chopping off local people's heads with a red-hot axe, revisionist history with the reveal George Washington knew dark forces are at work (shades of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), the presence of witches, and the attempt to combine the Sleepy Hollow story to The Bible's oft-exploited Book of Revelation (fuelling B-movie tripe since time immemorial). The story also chose to rattle along like a small-screen National Treasure movie, rather than let us appreciate any of the characters and their interactions. It was breathlessly told and certainly not boring, but it would have been nice to feel some attachment that wasn't entirely conceptual.

Is this worth sticking with? For awhile, why not. I was surprised by how much plot they romped through in this opening hour, so it'll be interesting to see how a more 'routine' mid-season episode is going to work. My guess Sleepy Hollow will play like another iteration of The X Files, with the twist being that its "Mulder" hails from the 18th-century and the only scepticism comes from Abbie's "Skinner"-like boss (Orlando Jones). I'm not sure how long the Headless Horseman mytharc can last before it becomes too repetitive, but one assumes the idea to base each season on a different Biblical horseman. That gives them four years at least.

Anything else worth mentioning? It was great to see cult legend Clancy Brown, however briefly, and I had to wonder if his appearance was a subtle joke because he played the big villain in Highlander (a movie where beheading people was a key element). The scene where an elderly reverend protected himself from the Horseman by attempting to bind him with metal chains (that he moved with the power of his mind) also suggests Sleepy Hollow contains other types of super-powered characters, which could be fun.

When and where is it airing? It's currently on Fox (Mondays) in the US, and is coming to the UK on 9 October (Wednesdays) courtesy of the Universal Channel.