By Kelly Etz, Daily Arts Writer
Published September 25, 2013
From “This is the End” to “World War Z,” there seemed an endless surplus of the-apocalypse-is-upon-us plotlines at the movies this summer. Banking on the trend, FOX’s new genre-procedural “Sleepy Hollow” brings the end of the world as we know it to weeknights.
Mondays at 9 p.m.
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All the elements are in place here. There’s a headless redcoat revolutionary, murmurings about witchy covens, a blurrily indistinct demon and George Washington’s bible. The most surprising twist? “Sleepy Hollow” isn’t that bad.
Two of the four creators of the series, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, put their “Fringe” background to excellent use, infusing “Sleepy Hollow” with an exacting amount of seriousness. Nobody’s laughing, and yet, the campy element is fully embraced. There are genuinely spooky moments — thumbs are nearly bitten off, heads are literally rolling everywhere (with one encased in a jar), living bodies claw their way out of the dirt — but all is done with a self-aware kind of silliness. It’s obvious the pilot knows it’s not “Hannibal” or “American Horror Story.” It’s not trying to be real, only entertaining.
And shockingly, it succeeds. If disbelief is suspended and nothing is examined too closely, you might find yourself laughing good-naturedly at the inanity. The pilot begins with Ichabod Crane (played by the dashingly British Tom Mison, “One Day”) fighting in the Revolutionary War and unknowingly beheading the final horseman of the apocalypse. Fast forward to present day, fictional Sleepy Hollow (they just had to throw in the “Welcome to … ” shot), where Ichabod and his horseman nemesis have been mysteriously resurrected. Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, “Shame”), finds an unexpected ally in Crane after her boss is unceremoniously dispatched by Death himself.
It’s a fanciful reimagining for sure, as the pilot moves further and further away from the story of Ichabod Crane as we know it and closer to an apocalyptic “National Treasure”-style witch hunt. Mison plays Crane as the self-confident academic instead of the stuttering, gangly milksop the character generally inspires. And once the Book of Revelation is brought into the whole thing, the only connection to Washington Irving is the requisite side character, Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones, “Identity”).
Despite the borrowing of character names, “Sleepy Hollow” is all about the Four Horsemen and the world’s descent into hell. There’s a lot of exposition, this is a pilot after all, and there’s the tedious skepticism to be overcome every time a new character enters the scene. As a genre series, “Sleepy Hollow” will naturally excel (if it avoids imminent cancellation) once its supernatural basis has worked out all the bumps with a few establishing episodes. After everyone is on board — audience included — the series can work in procedural cases, similar in style to fan favorite “Grimm.”
Though there are persistent problems, including the fact that a villain with no head is decidedly one-dimensional, it’s clear that FOX has at least borderline faith in the series. Currently airing on Monday nights, “Sleepy Hollow” has tough network competition, but the niche element gives it an edge over watered-down gunk like “Dancing with the Stars.”
As mindless (and headless) fun, “Sleepy Hollow” works on nearly every level. It’s complex enough to require functioning brain cells, but silly enough to work as a Candy Crush background track. It’s not the most enticing pilot of the fall season, but it’s original. And that’s better than most.