Page to Screen: Sleepy Hollow — Season 1

Sleepy Hollow: Season 1
based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

Sleepy Hollow - Season 1 Promos

There was no reason for Sleepy Hollow to be good. When its first trailer debuted, I cackled alongside my friends and felt the familiar rush of stumbling across something so bizarre and high-concept that it could only gratify my ravenous hunger for good-bad media. (It’s the same way I feel about X-Men: Days of Future Past, no matter how many times I might say that I think it might be good. I mean, sure, there’s a chance! But there’s just so much going on. It’s like a Claudia Kishi ensemble.) I was fully prepared to thrill all and sundry with my retelling of the pilot, much the same way I recap Breaking Dawn or how Rasputin died to gauge new acquaintances.

And then it turned out to be about friendship, sisterhood, respect, diversity, and the sheer joy of seeing the Headless Horseman bristling with guns. So I apologize, Sleepy Hollow. You brought the delightful bonkers I was expecting with more heart and dignity than most of your competition. Good show! (Oh, that’s an atrocious pun. Shan’t apologize, though.)

Sleepy Hollow bares the faintest resemblance to the original Washington Irving story, retaining Ichabod Crane, his wife, and, of course, the Headless Horseman. Here, Ichabod was a professor turned English soldier turned American soldier during the Revolutionary War. Charged by General Washington to take down an extremely dangerous Hessian mercenary, Ichabod dies in battle. Fortunately, his beloved wife Katrina turns out to be a witch, and manages to put him into a magical coma. Unfortunately, the Hessian is, in fact, the Headless Horseman (who is, in fact, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) and Katrina is trapped in purgatory for her actions. Two hundred years later, Ichabod wakes up to find himself in modern Sleepy Hollow, a suspect of the recent spate of beheadings that have plagued the town. Lt. Abbie Mills, a young and brilliant policewoman, begrudgingly takes Ichabod’s help. When they realize that the murders have a supernatural cause, Abbie’s own past rears its head. The two team up to battle the supernatural evils that herald the End of Days.

…yeah, I really don’t envy whoever does the “Previously, On” segments for the show, because all of the above is just in the pilot. I’ve seen arguments in favor of Agents of SHIELD (current dance card status: give me the Enchantress or give me death!) that the first season’s slowness is due to all the set-up and worldbuilding it needs to do. But Sleepy Hollow, with a shortened episode order of thirteen episodes, manages to cram in all the set-up and worldbuilding while delivering world-class character development, comedy, and hide behind your couch terror. As many people have pointed out, Sleepy Hollow may well be the first police drama where somebody actually calls the police before storming the evil Germans’ liar. (Refreshingly, the evil Germans are Hessians and not Nazis, which is certainly a change of pace.)

I want to start highlighting actors for their stellar work, but Sleepy Hollow is truly an ensemble piece. It’s difficult, after watching the first season, to try and put myself in the place of someone watching the pilot. You certainly get Ichabod, Abbie, and the beginning of their beautiful friendship, but it’s only later that Abbie’s supposedly “crazy” sister (who was right the whole time!) Jenny comes into the show, Captain Irving gets more screen time, Henry Parrish shows up, and Andy Brooks becomes the pathetically tragic figure that garners him both sympathy and revulsion. Despite the shortened season, all of these elements are introduced organically and rarely play out frenetically. Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison have an amazing odd couple chemistry, and watching Beharie and Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Jenny, try and repair their horribly broken relationship is lovely. And this is what makes all of the totally bonkers elements (zombie George Washington? Why not?) even more enjoyable—they’re anchored in a web of very real and very engaging human relationships. Of course, more could be done for Katrina, who, despite the immense potential of her character, spends much of the season as a exposition-dispensing damsel, but I have confidence that this will change in season two.

The horror elements and imagery are utilized very well; it’s creepy enough that you’ll think about but not so much that you’ll be having nightmares. This might sound like damning praise, but I spent much of high school sleeping with my front to my bedroom door in cause of zombies, despite all rational logic. I am very impressionable, personally, but I think striking the right balance and pushing psychological horror just as much as visual horror is a mark of the show’s quality.

Plus, Sleepy Hollow is funny. Watching Ichabod attempt to navigate the modern world is amusing and sweet (he gets the hang of smart phones, but addresses all his voice mails like letters), as is Abbie alternatively trying to help him and finding the whole situation hilarious. But Ichabod learning about the real Tom Jefferson is one of the show’s highlights, neatly deflating Ichabod’s hero worship of his compatriots and any possible romanticization of a problematic past. And that’s a symptom of this show being one of the most diverse on television right now. There’s even an episode about midway through the season that had fans laughing that no white man was safe, which is such a nice change of pace to see on primetime network television. Plus, Abbie slowly repairing her relationship with Jenny means that there’s a sororal relationship front and center in many episodes, which I don’t often see in genre television. Honestly, I hope Sleepy Hollow and Elementary are signs of a new world order in genre television, in both diversity and quality of character development.

(Also, the show’s Twitter account has had an adorable fight with Elementary’s Twitter account, Orlando Jones has become fandom’s BFF, and this picture exists. Bless!)

Bottom line: Sleepy Hollow, I must apologize. You brought the bonkers I was expecting, but with so much more heart, humor, and grace than the majority of your competition. Hats (or should I say heads?) off to you, you lovely show you. Highly recommended.

I watched this show on Fox.

7 thoughts on “Page to Screen: Sleepy Hollow — Season 1

  1. Hahahahahaha, I laughed so much at your parenthetical aside about X-Men: Future of Times to Days, because that is exactly how I feel PLUS bonus Babysitters’ Club shout-out. :p

    Sleepy Hollow was a pleasant surprise for me as well. It’s not always perfect, obviously, but it’s consistently fun and funny and suspenseful. I never don’t love Ichabod’s confusion with the modern world. I’m also really psyched for Jenny to become a series regular — I think she’s a lot of fun.

    THE POOR HESSIANS THOUGH. I have raved about this to everyone since learning it: Apparently the Hessians, who get all this shit in American history classes for being jerky mercenaries, were a lot of them press-ganged into service in the first place AND they didn’t hire their own selves out, the Holy Roman Empire hired them out. To Britain. So it’s really not fair on the Hessians that everyone is mad at them, including Ichabod Crane. The end.

    • I was telling someone yesterday that there just too many people in that movie. Objectively. (And I’m glad you caught the Kishi reference! Oh, Claudia.)

      I love Jenny. She’s a wonderful balance to both Abbie and Ichabod.

      I had no idea! Thanks for the enlightenment.

  2. How did you watch a Fox show on CBS?

    Aside from that, I hear Sleepy Hollow is a really good show that I ended up missing. I saw the first episode, which was good. I just found myself asking, “Where are Olivia and the Bishops [from Fringe]?” Oddly, part of the answer is that John Noble is playing a different character on Sleepy Hollow.

    One way or another, I need to watch this.

  3. Pingback: The Year in Review: My Favorite Films of 2014 | The Literary Omnivore

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