Now it’s fair to say that Sleepy Hollow wasn’t the most anticipated of the new Fall shows. There was absolutely no one crying out for a new take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, not least a modern-day take on the tale. The show’s creators didn’t inspire much confidence either: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are capable of a lot but are wildly inconsistent; Len Wiseman deals largely in mediocrity; and Phillip Iscove is a complete newcomer. The trailer (above) did little to help. It looked ridiculous, frankly, and when it promised that “Heads. Will. Roll,” you had to wonder whether that was in reference to whoever commissioned the show.
But hey, this is why we don’t judge shows until we’ve seen them, because the first episode of Sleepy Hollow is actually pretty good, and there was enough thrown at the screen over the 44 minutes to keep me interested enough to stick with this through the next few episodes at least. Of course, it’s every bit as ridiculous as it looked in the trailer, but by striking just the right balance between the silliness and seriousness of its premise, the Pilot remains pretty fun throughout. It’s an absolutely bonkers piece of television, and it could very well be that it will spawn a show that’s crazy-bad, rather than the crazy-good that it appears to be, but for now it deserves our attention.
We meet Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) back in 1871 fighting for George Washington’s army, and within 90 seconds he’s swinging a sword at the neck of a soon to be headless horseman, whilst taking a fatal-looking blow to the chest himself. After a cut to black we see Ichabod emerging from a creepy cave-grave and finding his way to a road where he’s almost run over by a truck. It’s 2013, and Ichabod has been awoken because he’s now linked by blood to the Headless Horseman (or something like that), who in turn may well be death incarnate, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and linked to all kinds of weird occulty stuff that’s been going on in the 132 years they’ve been away. We won’t delve into most of the supernatural babble that’s spewed during the episode, because perhaps it’s for the best that we don’t even try and understand it for now. All we really need to know is that the Headless Horseman is on the rampage, trying to reclaim his pickled head (seriously!), and Ichabod must keep it from him whilst trying to convince the local police force that he’s not insane. It’s a loose adaptation, to say the least.
In essence, what’s being set up is a twist on the police procedural, with all that mythological stuff set to become the fodder for Ichabod and his new partner, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), to investigate as the season moves forward. The pair share some good chemistry in the Pilot – I wasn’t overly familiar with either Beharie or Mison beforehand, but they both impressed – and it’s the scenes they share that are the episode’s best. Abbie’s a local cop who early on loses her partner (poor Clancy Brown) to the headless horseman, and that event coupled with a strange experience in her own past means she’s slightly more receptive to Ichabod’s strange tale that her colleagues. They establish a light-hearted patter quickly, and there’s some well-observed ‘fish out of water’ humour (the best a gag about the number of Starbucks in modern Sleepy Hollow) that effectively lighten the mood. It’s not as if the show is incredibly funny, but tongues are in cheeks when they need to be, and that sets the right kind of tone.
Len Wiseman does a decent job behind the camera, and adds a couple of nice visual flourishes at key moments. The creepy bits look suitably creepy, and the beheadings are every bit as unpleasant as is befitting of a network drama. And crucially, Sleepy Hollow isn’t as po(e)-faced as many other similar mythology-based shows tend to be, nor is it striving for the balls-to-the-wall, campy, hammy approach of, say, American Horror Story. For now it’s sitting comfortably in-between, and the longer it can keep that up the better.
It debuted to a healthy 10million viewers and a 3.4/9 rating in the key demo on Monday night in the U.S., which is a nice start, and will premiere on Universal Channel in the UK on October 9th at 9pm. We’ll try and check back in with Ichabod and Abbie in a couple of weeks to see how they’ve been getting along.