It’s long been a truism that TV is formulaic. Predictable. Banal. It’s understandable, I suppose; money’s tight, and producers want to be sure their investments are getting the most people watching so they stick around during the break to buy burgers and toasters and feminine hygiene products. This lean towards formula has killed off more than a few interesting, original shows over the years. Some were even good.
Which is why I’m glad that the premiere of Fox TV’s latest show, SLEEPY HOLLOW, proved to be its highest-rated in six years, and I hope that the momentum is maintained, because it proved to be some of the most fun I’ve seen in a TV show in a long time. It won’t be the lone horror series on TV this fall – I await AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN with bated breath – but it’s certainly the most batshit crazy one, and with a self-awareness of this very quality.
Created by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who helped create FRINGE and wrote the screenplays for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 and the latest STAR TREK movies, SLEEPY HOLLOW the TV show has no direct connection with the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie of the same name, except for the characters and some of the ideas – although, as the premiere starts, you’d be forgiven for thinking the connection is greater, as we enter 1781, and a pitched battle between American revolutionaries and British redcoats.
We see a huge man with a leather mask like a proto-Leatherface charging through, brandishing an axe, and seemingly heading towards one man, who we later find out is Ichabod Crane (British stage actor Tom Mison). In the original story, he was a cowardly schoolteacher. In the Burton movie, a cowardly detective. Here, however, he’s an altogether braver, more intrepid spy, a former British soldier now working for General Washington, assigned to stop this murderous axeman. But guns don’t seem to affect him. Crane barely survives before he cuts off the other guy’s head. But you know that’s not the end of it, because you’re all smart people, or you wouldn’t be at Anythinghorror.
And you’d be right. The wounded Crane suddenly wakes up, breaking out of some sort of wax cocoon, ignorant of where he is or how he got there. He stumbles out of what turns out to be a cave and onto a concrete path – and barely escaping the path of a truck. Welcome to Sleepy Hollow, 2013 AD.
Then we cut to a diner, and two local law enforcement agents, Sheriff August Corbin (Clancy Brown, HIGHLANDER of course) and his younger partner Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, SHAME), discussing Abbie’s imminent departure to Quantico to join the FBI. But then they get a call to investigate a disturbance at a local farmhouse. And finding the decapitated body of the local farmer certainly counts as a “disturbance”. Before you know it, Sheriff Corbin runs into the Headless Horseman, and in a scene that will tickle his fans from HIGHLANDER, gets decapitated. The Horseman steals a horse and rides off, leaving Abbie alive to bear witness.
Meanwhile, a disoriented Crane is picked up by other cops, who are amazed by his story, and by how he passes their polygraph test. Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones, EVOLUTION), who clearly knows more than he’s saying, allows Abbie to interrogate Crane, and when she gets the opportunity to escort him to the local funny farm, uses him, the only one who might believe her insane story of a headless killer running amok, to find the answers.
Crane, for his part, is fascinated by the world 230 years or so in the future, with its power windows, Starbucks and women wearing trousers (in that respect, it reminds me a lot of that old movie WARLOCK, with Julian Sands and Richard E Grant). He handles it better than you might suspect, more concerned finding the grave of his wife Katrina (Katia Winter) – and of course, the Horseman, who is out attacking priests who, in turns out, has mystic powers (for all the good it does).
People with secrets is going to be a theme, because it’ll turn out that modern day Sleepy Hollow (depicted as a much bigger place than its real-life counterpart, a necessity given the high body count we’ll see) is just filled with folk who are more than what they seem. And the rest of the pilot plays out a grand conspiracy that throws in everything but the Illuminati – and given the prevalence of the Freemason imagery, they can’t be far behind. There’s the Apocalypse, George Washington’s bible, ghosts, bird guides, demons in mirrors, rival covens of witches good and bad, everything but a aliens and a twerking Paul Lynde (but then this is only the first episode).
SLEEPY HOLLOW’s opening episode is brisk, economical, and Kurtzman and Orci are deft hands at painting memorable characters and delivering witty lines. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie have good chemistry together, Mison in particular providing both dry wit and gravitas, and though Clancy Brown’s character gets killed, I doubt if we’ll see the end of him. Director Len Wiseman (UNDERWORLD, DIE HARD 4.0) has a good eye for macabre visual humour, too. It could do with some more gore, but then you can’t have everything. I do like the notion of a secret mystical history of America running parallel to the usual dates and places and battles and such.
I think folks should take time out to watch this, and hopefully it’ll maintain enough viewers to be renewed, because it sounds like Kurtzman and Orci have got a few years planned ahead for the characters and town. And hopefully they’ll keep the insanity revved up, because in this episode alone we get the Headless Horseman – armed with a pump-action shotgun and assault rifle. It was worth it just for that alone!
Director: Len Wiseman
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 2 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The D is silent. It’s chewing chocolate. A doggie dropped it.