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Off With Their Heads: Sleepy Hollow Pilot Review

By on September 17, 2013
The Headless Horseman -- Photo by: Kent Smith/FOX

The Headless Horseman -- Photo by: Kent Smith/FOX

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

As Ichabod Crane’s body rose from the dirt, rock and roots of a dark, wet cave it became very clear the Lord forgot to take a certain someone’s soul. It wasn’t the only thing the Lord dropped the ball on.

FOX’s shot at a modern adaption of Sleepy Hollow may not stick entirely to the original story (read: not nearly), but that’s just fine. The series creates a universe all its own, mixing up quite a few genres and leaving us with a dark and addictive police procedural wrapped carefully up in an occult thriller.

Conceptually Sleepy Hollow is one of the more ridiculous new series of the fall broadcast season. That’s as far as the ridiculous goes though. Every element of the show works which makes it hard to put a finger on the parts of the machine working the best. The fish out of water humor, the buddy cop camaraderie between Ichabod Crane (Tim Mison) and Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), and the eerie tone evident in everything (including the odd, smokey filter that covers the entire town), help create the perfect concoction of supernatural fun.

All of these elements played out heavily within the pilot and as a result could have worn thin from overuse. In fact one of those things almost did (a.k.a. it might be wise to keep the “Crane doesn’t get the joke/colloquialism because he’s as old as our nation” to a sprinkle instead of a lather). Despite walking that line nothing, including the humor, ever crossed it and in the process the pilot delivered a well conceived myth that will act as a strong and exciting backbone for the series.

Crane was a soldier fighting during the revolutionary war who wound up sliced and diced by a seemingly unkillable enemy, then woke up 250 years later to the world as we know it. Seems like pretty basic stuff, right? Here’s where it gets really interesting: that indestructible foe was actually one of the four horsemen, awoken by an evil bent on bringing about the end of days. As for Crane, well he isn’t entirely what he seems. Ichabod was a soldier sent on a mission by our nation’s first president, George Washington, to stop the horseman – now headless thanks to Crane’s quick blade – from raising the other three.

When Crane died so did the horseman, and to keep things that way Crane’s wife, Katrina – a member of an ancient witch coven – buried him in a nearby cave. She and the other witches went on to bury the horseman in a chained coffin which they then tossed into a nearby river. Sadly, the evil that woke the first of the horsemen didn’t go into hibernation like his lackey. Instead it trapped Katrina in an alternate forest universe that apparently can be only reached through mirrors and Ichabod’s dreams.

Back to the future, the horseman – after arising from an excruciatingly long slumber – has made his first job axing Lt. Abbie Mills’ partner. Mills, who had her own supernatural experience with the horseman when she was younger, is assigned to move Crane from the jail to a facility for the mentally ill when his period clothing and speech implicate him in the death of her partner. Crane’s label of “crazy” lends them to an emotional understanding though when she connects him with her young life labels.

Nichole Beharie as Abbie Mills, Tim Mison as Ichabod Crane -- ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co.

Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills, Tim Mison as Ichabod Crane — ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co.

This works to both their and our advantage by prompting her to give Ichabod a half-hearted benefit of the doubt. As a result, they galavant around the small town putting the pieces of her partner’s death together. Of course there’s a heavy dose of humor and some early snappy banter as they ignore Captain Frank Irving’s (Orlando Jones) orders and drive almost endlessly, sticking their noses in places that can get them killed. They eventually reach common ground when Crane uncovers that what Mills witnessed in the woods was no psychotic break. It was the beginning of her true calling: helping to stop the events of Revelations. With him.

All the while, more beheadings and horseman sightings befall Sleepy Hollow making it clearer that this creature will be a significant (and weekly) headache for the duo. As the team’s first and fate changing journey unfolds, our conception of the story’s intensity is rocked when we witness a fellow officer carry out the dirty work of a supposed demon. This demon is puppeteering the horseman and an attempt to end the world.

Put all of that together and what do you get? A near perfect illustration of a fantasy, supernatural, horror cop drama. Its contents? Witch covens, English speakers in 18th century period dress, demons living in mirrors, cops with biblical destinies, and a headless horseman wielding machine guns. Yes, it seems like a lot. Yes, it seems a little ridiculous. But it’s not. Really. It’s a fun, sometimes scary, ride based on a tale that’s been reimagined or retold as many times as Batman – but never this good.

What did you think of Sleepy Hollow’s pilot? Share your thoughts, favorite moments, and hopes for the series in the comments.

Catch Sleepy Hollow Mondays at 9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.

3 Comments

  1. eowyn

    September 17, 2013 at 5:07 am

    Love this review and the show.

    • Catherine Cabanela

      September 18, 2013 at 2:20 am

      Abbey – I, too, enjoyed the pilot! One interesting thing that I noted, however, was the sparkly, dreamy way Mills looks or smiles at Crane … possibility of a budding romance? However >>> Crane is clearly still very much in love with his wife and oblivious to Mills’ *attraction* or whatever it is she’s exuding. Did you notice that, or was it just me? The actress is stunning … but it’s more than that. Interested in your response. And, as always, GREAT REVIEW!

      Catherine

      • Abbey White

        September 19, 2013 at 4:41 am

        They are absolutely adorable together aren’t they? I mean, it’s just the right kind of team up. I love them. I didn’t really see it the same way though. Yes, Abbie *stared* at Crane, but for me it was less “I find myself oddly attracted to you” and more:

        1. You’re odd kid, but you got sass and I like that.
        2. Everything and nothing you say makes sense. At the same time. How do you know so much and is this possible?
        3. Are we going to do the thing where we save the world? *warrior destiny/fate tingles*

        Their stares could be interpreted romantically, and there were a few moments where I went “Huh.” I also don’t think the stares were one sided. Crane had a few indefinite looks of admiration for Mills. However, I didn’t interpret nearly enough of them that way to jump on that ship (no pun intended). It all felt more aligned with that moment right before The Avengers decide to cut the bickering and save the world together. A “Let’s do this. Let’s be a part of something bigger” thing. Basically: More Winchesters, less Castle. (Side note: There is a part of me that is eager to see what a romance between the two would look like, and in my perfect world it grows out of their strong platonic friendship. Perhaps season 2?)

        Your take though is shared by many. I attribute this to the awesome chemistry between Mison and Beharie. I also have to wonder how much the romance interpretation comes from the fact that they are a guy/girl team up versus being a girl/girl or guy/guy. We aren’t used to seeing female protagonists/leads whose development isn’t strongly linked to a romantic plot line. Jessica Pearson of Suits is really the only one that comes to mind at the moment (and I adore her and Harvey’s intense and complicated relationship).