Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
Sleepy Hollow is a modern retelling of the short tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.
The premise of Sleepy Hollow is frankly ridiculous and complicated. The premise of the show is that Ichabod Crane wakes up in the present with the Headless Horsemen. The Headless Horsemen is part of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Crane has to team up with a detective in order to stop the end of the world from happening. That is frankly a lot to swallow but what's remarkable about the pilot is that it actually works. It's not a perfect episode but it does set up the premise in stunning fashion. The reason is because Sleepy Hollow takes itself just seriously enough to work but it realizes that it has a ridiculous concept. The mythology is presented in a manner that is easy to understand which helps viewers follow what's going on. It has a sharp wit that will endear the audience to the characters. The end product is one that is wildly entertaining. The promised series is at once funny, serious, and requires some level of commitment. The future episode descriptions promise that every episode will have a separate villain. The headless horsemen is the seasonal villain with the demon that keeps waking them as the ultimate big bad. This basically gives the impression that while most episodes will stand on their own, there is a strong serialized element that should encourage viewers to catch every episode they can. The judgement to the quality of individual cases is still out but there's a lot of potential for a strong supernatural procedural. The serialized portion of the show is already off to a pretty great start. Sleepy Hollow is a show that shouldn't work due to it's complicated and over-the-top nature and yet....it does.
The pilot of Sleepy Hollow does have it's flaws. It has so much mythology it has to establish that it's very over-stuffed. This has led to some characters being more undeveloped than I would like. I think it says a lot that a dead character (the sheriff) has more development than the police captain. It might sell it's ridiculousness but that doesn't remove the fact that it's ludicrous. The internal “logic” of the show is very questionable although this is partially due to undeveloped characters. The four horsemen of the apocalypse is a bit cliché even if it's a nifty reinterpretation of the Headless Horseman. The character arc of Abbie feels forced as her decision to stay in Sleepy Hollow isn't rooted in character but by necessity. It wouldn't be a surprise that as fun as this pilot is, it could easily start to fall apart as the show goes along. The mythology threatens to drag the whole show down, the tone will be difficult to maintain, and the weak side characters might never get developed. There is a lot of room to remain to be skeptical of Sleepy Hollow but I'm hoping the writers surprise us. They already did with a pilot that took it's premise and sold it well. If they're able to keep this up, they'll be able to balance the tone, the mythology will be more interesting than convoluted, and develop the rest of the characters. Sleepy Hollow has the potential to become a big mess but it could also turn out to be one of the funnest shows on television. Whatever happens, it promises to be an interesting ride to watch both the show itself and the reception. Hell, it's disappointing I wasn't able to put this show on my review roster but alas there's only so much time in the world.
The one character that Sleepy Hollow gets right is Ichabrod Crane. He has an understandable fish out of water element but his charm should help to win viewers over. It is in fact his reaction to what's happening to him that helps lull the viewer into accepting everything that's going on. Tom Mison is a great lead that helps sell his role. He manages to embody the character and turn him human. The female lead, his partner, is Abbie Mills. The show hits some stumbling blocks into trying to develop her. They give her aspirations to leave Sleepy Hollow but they are forced because any viewer would realize she's going to be sticking around from the very beginning. Her character arc has so little time to get her from wanting to leave to sticking around to the point where it wasn't worth even trying to do it. The attempts to connect her past to the supernatural elements make her special and gives her a reason to stay but doesn't actually develop her. She's a bland character who is only able to work because Nicole Behari has acceptable chemistry with Mison. The two could potentially be a really fun pair to watch that provide the real reason to watch. The mythology is fine but it's meaningless without the characters to back it up. The reason viewers will become invested is the characters and their relationships to each other. So how Crane and Abbie work on a weekly basis is going to be crucial to whether show is able to sustain it's ratings or not.
The rest of the characters receive limited development. Orlando Jones plays the boss character who is defined by being a police captain. That's basically all there is to him. Katia Winter plays Katrina Crane, a character who has supposedly been dead for centuries after being burned at the stake for being a witch. She's a protagonist who can communicate with her husband through visions. She's likewise not developed beyond her role. The two are listed as main characters but the dead sheriff actually gets more time dedicated to him. The pilot kills off two other characters: John Cho's detective who works for the headless horseman and the priest who uses magical chains to try to keep the horseman from winning. These two dead characters aren't developed beyond what they do in the narrative. There is so much plot that the characters don't really get any time. This means that John Cho's working with the bad guys isn't a big plot twist because his character was non-existent. There was no plot twist to actually work. I wasn't expecting the antagonistic horseman to be developed but it's a bit disappointing how weak characters are on Sleepy Hollow. On the other hand, it's the concentration on the mythology that helped the pilot work. Time will have to tell how the series fares when it's able to slow down and develop it's inhabitants.
Sleepy Hollow is a show that I'm rooting for. It's a fun show that has a sharp wit and manages to sell it's premise by taking itself just seriously enough without forgetting how ridiculous it is. The partnership between Abbie and Crane promises to provide the dynamics we watch the show for. The side characters could be developed a bit more but that's standard of pilots. This could be a seriously fun ride but it could also completely fall apart within a few episodes. I can't predict the future but I can tell you that it's a show that's worth checking out.
The direction of the pilot is also fantastic and gives the illusion something is wrong from the beginning.