The new FOX paranormal series Sleepy Hollow, based on the classic story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, concludes its first season with a two-hour finale airing tonight, January 20th. The show originally started with a pilot that re-imagined the original tale, sending Ichabod Crane and his nemesis the Headless Horseman mysteriously forward in time to the present, where they continue their conflict. Crane joins forces with police officer Abigail Mills in order to stop the Horseman and other creatures of darkness. The show has quickly expanded its mythology in interesting ways that stretch beyond just the Horseman, and in doing so it’s become, in my opinion, one of the best supernatural shows in recent memory. The premise of Sleepy Hollow might have appeared hokey at first, but the series has proven it has more thought put into it than you would expect. If you haven’t checked out the show yet, here are some reasons why you should give it a chance:
1. The Characters
The series features a mixture of characters, some from Irving’s story and others created by the show’s writers. In both cases, however, they are afforded the same amount of care and depth. The sixth episode of the show, “The Sin Eater,” features an intense dramatic scene that hinges upon the friendship between Ichabod and Abigail. Despite the fact that the show was only about halfway through its first season, the characters already had the necessary chemistry to make the scene effective and engaging. The friendship between Ichabod and Abigail is the emotional core of the show, and it provides warm reprieve from the horrors that they face in each episode.
Elsewhere, other characters have been explored less, but it adds to the mystery of the show. A police captain named Irving (named after the author, of course) and Abigail’s sister Jenny became more involved as the season continued, and they’ve added a new dimension to the show. All of these characters work very well together, while each has his or her own strengths. The only weak link at this point is Ichabod’s wife Katrina, but her detachment from the others is a central element to the main story, so I’m sure she will have bigger moments in upcoming episodes.
2. The History
Washington Irving originally wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as an attempt to build a mythology for the United States, which was in its infancy at the time. Sleepy Hollow the series takes the same approach, and most episodes feature a flashback to Crane fighting in the American Revolution. These are not simply history lessons, however, because each scene plays a role in both Crane’s character development and the continuously growing mythology of monsters and witches. Occasionally, Crane’s role in pretty much every major event in the War seems a bit far-fetched, but it’s fun if you’re able to suspend your belief. Not only is it good to see the fantasy grounded in real history, but the origins of the United States are mystified in an interesting way. It’s not just a war for independence, but a battle between good and evil.
3. The Production Value
Len Wiseman, the director behind action films like Underworld and Live Free or Die Hard, is an executive producer and occasional director on Sleepy Hollow. I’m sure the name might not be the best vote of confidence, because his movies have not always had a positive reputation, but here he gives the series a wonderful cinematic flair. The pilot, which was directed by Wiseman, especially had a certain look that surprised me and drew me into the show immediately. The show maintains this quality most of the time, but I will admit that a certain episode later in the season (“Sanctuary”) experimented with some different techniques that didn’t complement the show’s usual style.
The solid production value is a big advantage for Sleepy Hollow, which relies on effects, makeup, and wardrobe to not only create the supernatural monsters, but also to bring 18th century America to life. I still don’t know how they make the Horseman look headless, but I wonder every time he is on screen.
4. The Format
Some might be curious why the first season of a network television show is ending in mid-January. Is Sleepy Hollow cancelled? Actually, no. Inspired by recent cable television hits such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men, FOX is trying to stay ahead of the curve by ordering less episodes of newer shows like Sleepy Hollow. At first, this sounds like a negative, but often the shorter seasons lead to an overall improvement in the quality of the show, because the filmmakers only have to worry about thirteen (or less) episodes instead of twenty-two episodes, the common length of a network season.
What this means is that Sleepy Hollow seasons are less likely to have “filler” episodes that don’t affect the larger story line. Each episode is more important, because the writers have to fit a season’s worth of plot development in just thirteen episodes.
5. The Storytelling
On paper, the underlying concept behind the series appears to be achingly familiar: a straight-laced police officer teams up with an eccentric civilian in order to solve a variety of cases. If you have watched network television in recent years, I’m sure some other shows are already coming to mind (Castle, perhaps?). You might also think that the premise also suggests that the show would be a procedural, each episode having its own self-contained story, so that it can attract casual viewers.
Neither of these presumptions are exactly wrong. Sleepy Hollow does in fact have a cop partnered with a rather odd gentleman who assists her in solving cases, but unlike the other programs that use the trope, Sleepy Hollow is far more natural in its writing. Ichabod Crane is a consistent character, never acting odd just for the sake of acting odd, and the duo quickly becomes a team, instead of bickering endlessly to create sexual tension. In addition, while episodes are structured like a procedural, each case is relevant to the ongoing story line. Sleepy Hollow is a rare show that can maintain this balance, and in its success it reminds me of certain great fantasy shows before it, namely Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural.
These are just five reasons, among many, that I’ve become addicted to this new series, and I hope others would find it interesting enough to pursue. FOX has already renewed it for a second season, so it’s not going anywhere, but I feel like I owe it to fans of the genre, and fans of good television, to recommend Sleepy Hollow.