Friday, 26 September 2014

Review: SLEEPY HOLLOW, 2.1 – 'This is War' • it's back, crazier than ever!

Friday, 26 September 2014


SLEEPY HOLLOW is back for more. More, more, more! Has there ever been a more frenzied, resolutely high-tempo supernatural drama? I can't remember the time an episode paused for breath, as the writers seem to push every scene like it's the climax of a blockbuster movie. Season 2's typically bonkers premiere, "This is War", was the concluding part of season 1's finale—answering how Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) escaped being buried alive in a wood, and partner Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) escaped being sent to Purgatory. Big answers were required, and delivered in the show's usual way: during a barrage of preposterous flashbacks, fake-outs, scene-chewing performances, copious visual effects, bizarre hoop-jumping (find Benjamin Franklin's key that can cheat the 'one in, one out' rule of purgatory), and the gross overuse use of smoke-and-light machines.

If you're still watching Sleep Hollow, you clearly don't have a problem with supernatural shows that threaten to derail themselves every week. That's probably part of the thrill, because nobody wants to ride a sedate Ghost Train when there's a white-knuckle roller coaster on offer. I get the feeling the producers daren't apply the brakes, because any pause for breath may give audiences a chance to realise how deeply stupid it is, or begin questioning everything too much.

Every episode plays like it's the last act of a film, tantalisingly close to reaching a satisfying crescendo, only to elevate things to an even higher level. Is that a good thing? I'm not so sure. I'd love for Sleepy Hollow to be less frantic and convoluted, because there are some good actors involved. Tom Mison is fantastic as the man-out-of-time hero Ichabod, while Nicole Beharie's Sheriff Abbie Mills makes for a great partner (who remains a platonic equal, thankfully), and there are guest stars as brilliant as Fringe's John Noble—here twirling a figurative moustache as The Second Horseman ("War"), and estranged sixtysomething son of the younger hero. (Don't you just love time-travel?)

But while the actors keep everything feeling fun and tongue-in-cheek, they're ultimately being dragged along by the unyielding narrative. There are keys and amulets to find, demons to slaughter, mirrors to travel through, a Headless Horsemen to avoid, and dusty books to crack open... all the time. It's exhausting, frankly. Like watching an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on fast-forward, with all the character-building moments removed.

There's a family element to the show, as the imperilled are loved-ones and even enemy are blood relatives or friends, but I'm not sure how much Sleepy Hollow really cares about all of that. It's more about inventing ceaseless ways to keep Ichabod and Abbie gallivanting about the titular hamlet, stopping a master-demon called Moloch from ushering in the apocalypse.

As most episodes play like the last chapter of a book that won't end, and we know there could be close to a hundred episodes if ratings stay healthy, I have to question if even loyal fans will be keen on Sleepy Hollow in a theoretical fourth or fifth season. Just how many times can the good guys stop the hordes of Hell from destroying the planet, starting with an innocuous little town in upstate New York?

In some ways, Sleepy Hollow has done itself a disservice by focusing so heavily on Moloch and his evil plans. It doesn't give the show a lot of variety, as everything's ultimately part of that singular, grand narrative. Imagine if every single X Files episode had been about Agent Mulder trying to expose a government alien conspiracy, so we never got any monster-of-the-week stories. I feel like Sleepy Hollow needs to find a way to just have Ichabod and Abbie investigate weirdness unrelated to the central idea; but, of course, the title of the show is a built-in restriction, and the show's become a surprise hit just doing what it's doing. Why stop now? Just keep going until the wheels come off, or the writers have nervous breakdowns.

I won't be reviewing Sleepy Hollow every week. It would be pointless and dull. It's ultimately weekly hour where shit keeps hitting the fan, alleviated by charming Ichabod adjusting to modernity. It's a good recipe for dumb-but-fun television, where slick visuals and funny quips are enough to keep the target audience happy, but there isn't enough substance for me. My mind wanders because the show's focus is so narrow and everything unspools at breakneck speed. I can only hope the remainder of the season will begin to find avenues for depth, more introspection, and in general become less of an audio-visual cacophony.

We like you, Sleepy Hollow; now make us care about this apocalyptic threat of yours.

written by Mark Goffman • directed by Ken Olin • 23 September 2014 • Fox