Friday, 24 January 2014

Finale review: Fox's SLEEPY HOLLOW (Season 1)

Friday, 24 January 2014

WARNING: SPOILERS! Fox's supernatural drama Sleepy Hollow was the surprise hit of the autumn and ended its first season of thirteen episodes last Monday. I've been wrestling with this show most weeks, because sometimes it stays focused and delivers some genuinely creepy visuals, then at other times it devolves into a screwy mess of supernatural weirdness. The fact it's a hit isn't surprising to me, because it's so restless in its approach that my guess is most viewers have been swept along on a tidal wave of spookiness and Tom Mison worship. The English actor's fantastic as Ichabod Crane, of course; playing a courteous 19th-century colonial who awakens in the 21st-century to fight a Headless Horseman and other nasties on the eve of Armageddon. I also like Nicole Beharie as his strong-willed partner, Sheriff Abby Mills, and it's great to see the writers haven't forced an obvious romance between the pair.

Sleepy Hollow involves lots of things that appeal to me, and yet after watching season 1 I'm one of the few still on the fence. There are monsters, witches, magic, ghouls, alternate history, flashbacks, fish-out-of-water comedy, demons, zombies, possessions, haunted houses, creepy cellars, underground tunnels... pretty much every cliché in the Horror Handbook popped up this year. The finale even featured a solar eclipse and that old standby of an "unreal reality" tricking the heroes, Star Trek: Generations-style.

I think Sleepy has surfed the wave of its own ridiculousness and managed to get through because it's so self-aware, but now I'm a little exhausted. I've suddenly realised that any of the characters could die and I wouldn't care—partly because I would be certain the writers will resurrect them with some mumbo-jumbo anyway, as they did President George Washington.

Surely it's going to have to slow down and start letting audiences appreciate things of more subtlety? But if that happens in season 2, will the spell be broken? Sleepy is designed to be a wild and crazy ride, but there's only so many hours of that it can deliver before audiences crave something substantial holding it together. The fate of the world is at stake, sure, but it's hard to invest in that because of how the story is being told. It's just so unsettled I sometimes forget exactly what's happening in the overall arc of the show. It probably hasn't helped that the show went on hiatus over Christmas, and only came back to burn-off the last remaining episodes (the finale was also a double-bill). That's unfortunate scheduling because the pause lost some momentum Sleepy definitely relies on.

Overall, am I excited for Sleepy Hollow's return later this year? Well, actually yes... but mainly because the finale unmasked meek psychic hero Henry Parish as a Darth Vader to the demonic Moloch's Emperor... only if Vader turned out to also be Luke Skywalker's son. Indeed, the climactic twist that Henry (Fringe's John Noble) is Ichabod's long-lost child and the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, worked incredibly well and lifted the show's mad finale to a cool crescendo. I thought Noble was being wasted in the perfunctory role of gifted-but-troubled Henry, but he'll clearly have a more important place in the story going forward.

As a lifelong fan of the supernatural, Sleepy Hollow's assembled in a style I find too haphazard to get totally engrossed in. That said, it does have a habit of delivering a cool idea, memorable visual, or land a surprising twist to lure you keep you glued. And I'll be back for more of its National Treasure-meets-Washington Irving ludicrousness next season, that much is certain.