With this fall's group of pilots, FOX remains the network with the most fingers in the genre pie. Along with the very promising 'Almost Human' from 'Fringe' showrunner J.H. Wyman, the network will be bringing us the crazy, spooky 'Sleepy Hollow,' a modern-day retelling of Washington Irving's famous short story. Comic-Con audiences were treated to an advance screening of the pilot, and we've seen it too -- so is it worth checking out? Read on!
What it's about: Ichabod Crane is a Revolutionary War soldier who finds himself transported to modern day New England after a battle with a mysteriously immortal redcoat (the Headless Horseman, beheading courtesy of Ichabod). Trouble is, the horseman is still alive in modern day New England, too -- and he's a harbinger of more than just pumpkins. Crane must convince Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) that he's not crazy so that they can work together to stop the apocalypse (turns out there's three other horsemen).
The verdict: It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It’s overstuffed with the kind of ludicrous genre buzzwords that the worst summer shows are made of. Remember ‘Zero Hour,’ ABC’s hilariously awful sci-fi series that aired earlier this year? Yeah, I wish I didn’t either. On paper, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ looks like it would fall victim to the kind of things that made ‘Zero Hour’ so bad: it’s stuffed with so many fantastical plot elements that it looks like it might collapse under all that weight (I didn’t mention the demons, witches, or mysterious prophecies, did I?). It could very easily be just another entry in the ever-expanding category of ‘Lost’ ripoffs overly desperate to immediately craft an intricate, compelling sci-fi mythology.
But, for some reason, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ works. I haven’t quite figured out why.
I didn’t expect to like it. In fact, I expected to absolutely hate it. But by the end of the pilot, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ had won me over, somewhat.
Maybe it was because the characters were surprisingly compelling. After the first hour, Crane and Mills are still just archetypical sketches of characters, but there’s promise for them to develop into more than just narrative devices. And the chemistry between Mison and Beharie is promising -- though the trust that forms between the two is almost too sudden to be really believable, the two play off each other enough to surprisingly sell it. The rest of the cast is hardly notable: Orlando Jones, as the obligatory skeptical superior (think ‘Fringe’s’ Philip Broyles), is passable, if not particularly memorable.
But the most interesting thing that the show does with its cast is kill off its two most familiar faces by the end of the first episode. The trailers for the series have already given away the fact that Clancy Brown’s character doesn’t last very long (a shame, really, considering how the show’s religious imagery could have made some cheeky ‘Carnivale’ references), but the show surprisingly kills another well-known guest star before the hour is done. By killing off the best-known genre actors, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ seems to be making an effort to defy the expectations that now come with being a mythology-heavy genre show. It only partially succeeds, but the signs that it’s trying are exciting enough.
The show has problems, of course. The fact that anyone would even start to consider Crane’s bizarre story is glossed over a little too conveniently (though it’ll certainly pop up later), and the show seems to tiptoe around subjects that would have made the show even more compelling. For example, despite having lived in colonial-era America, Crane makes a big point in pointing out to the African-American Mills how anti-racist he is, even though it would have been far more compelling for the dynamic between the two to be tinged by Crane’s unintentionally outdated views -- in fact, Crane’s lack of any real shock toward a black policewoman (or a black superior) is a bit of an eye-rolling convenience.
But then again, ‘Sleepy Hollow’ doesn’t have any time to spend on social commentary. It’s too busy zooming through an incredibly dense plot that defies any sort of simple summary (“It’s, uh, about the apocalypse... and prophecies and Sleepy Hollow and there are some witches in there, too...”). There’s no real indication of how the series will go forward, or how it will function from week to week, but it’s got plenty of options. It’s overstuffed, sure, but it’s just unpredictable and defiant enough to be intriguing. Whether or not it will be able to successfully navigate its dense maze of a plot is still up in the air, but I’m willing to stick around and find out.
Should you watch? It's worth a shot.
‘Sleepy Hollow’ will premiere Monday, Sept. 16 at 9/8c on FOX.