REVIEW: Why Sleepy Hollow Is A Cut Above The Rest

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Sleepy Hollow A Show REALLY Worth Losing Your Head Over

It takes a particular kind of show to steal multiple consecutive hours of your life without you even realising it. There are the obvious factors of course, as to what might get you to begin your journey along it’s plot line: it might star actors you really like, or be written by someone responsible for another one of your favorite TV series. Or perhaps the concept is just so utterly intriguing to you that you find yourself having to watch it at least once, just to see how something might make you re-evaluate just how far the human imagination can stretch in order to come up with a great story.

For Sleepy Hollow, it was never going to be a concern on any of these levels when it came to providing audiences with enough reasons to start watching. After all: the show is well cast and has a very experienced team of writers, producers and directors behind it, some of whom have been responsible for some of the most successful shows of the last decade and a half.

Just to name a few, Ken Olin, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have (alongside Bad Robot Studios creator, the legendary J.J. Abrams) played huge roles in the creative success of such legendary shows as Lost and ALIAS. Philip Iscove – their fellow creator – has obviously demonstrated also that he is more than able to step up to the creative plate in this, his first big production. Jose Molina has known considerable screen writing success with marvelous creative turns in shows as legendary as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Law & Order: SVU. Add to that mix Len Wiseman – creator of the cult favorite Underworld film series – and you have yourself a pretty nifty list of ingredients in the recipe for TV success.

But plenty of shows have started with as much promise; indeed, many of them often slump – under the weight of expectation perhaps – very quickly towards that almost always sad public notice of cancellation, because the audience’s reasons to keep watching have died faster than a lit match under a running tap. But this show? Would it really be any different to them?

Would it be that kind of show?

The answer to that question, of course, has now well and truly been answered by the vast number of both fans tuning in each week, and critics who cannot help but praise the infectious, enthusiastic sense of delight that Sleepy Hollow has injected in to the 2013/14 TV line up.

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Indeed, there is no argument left to make against the fact that – even amidst all the other TV offerings we are currently being plied with; stories of everything from teachers, terrorists, journalists, junkies, girls, gangsters and ghost hunters – Sleepy Hollow has well and truly set itself apart and caught the attention of fans and critics alike. And after much dissecting (not to mention re-watching, and a significant amount of tea), this reviewer thinks she might just have it pinned as to why that is.

sleepy-hollow-ingvardMuch Ado About A Classic

Washington Irving’s wonderfully macabre tale of a Headless Horseman wreaking bloodthirsty havoc in a late 18th century New England town, is a legendary piece of writing. It was a short story that packed a veritable library of thrill and fright into a very tiny space, and it’s a testament to Irving that – similar to Shakespeare – his work continues to entice fans and readers even today.

But aside from the actual content of the tale itself, it remains equally as valued for the way in which it shows a certain reverence of – and indeed, a reveling in – the extraordinary beauty of language. And with that in mind, it can sometimes be hard not to lament the fact that people in contemporary society just don’t take the time anymore to address each other with that same measure of wit or fervor or cleverness in their day to day conversations. They just seem to save it for when they think the right pair of ears are listening, or – in this case – the right pair of eyes are watching.

Which brings us to one of the most prized and valuable characteristics of this show: the fact that it gives us ample reason on a weekly basis to stop lamenting the absence of beautiful, eloquent language on our TVs each week. Indeed, we owe considerable thanks to whoever the lovely, lovely person it was that came up with the ambitious idea of taking one of Gothic literature’s most beloved reluctant heroes and giving him new birth into a twentieth century context.

A Writing RevolutionSleepy Hollow 108 - Necromancer 2

When you first read the premise of this retelling of the Sleepy Hollow legend, it’s hard not to be a tad skeptical regarding how much success it will enjoy. After all, the TV universe at the moment is already jam-packed with supernatural and magical offerings like The Originals, The Tomorrow People, Supernatural (well obviously), The Vampire Diaries etc.

What would these writers and creators possibly be able to do with this story that meant it would stick out and not get lost in that crowd? What would their show give me as a viewer that I had not already experienced elsewhere first? An apocalypse? Because seriously: between Buffy Summers and the Winchester Brothers, haven’t we experienced so many apocalypses that we’re pretty much due for a free Coke, fries and up-size with our next one? For myself, I felt coming into this like my End of Days customer loyalty card was pretty full already, and getting another stamp on it wasn’t going to be high on my priority list.

And then of course, we met three characters who promptly derailed such trains of thought in their entirety.

A headless horseman – proof that just because a character doesn’t have a head, doesn’t mean he can’t still be expressive or…you know…aim at things accurately; an earthy, sparky and straight shooting cop – who is a total breath of fresh air amidst a sea of other, current lady cop characters – and,  best of all, a lanky Englishman of scalding intellect, elegant manners and a very sore head after waking abruptly after 250 years of nap time, into a world he does not understand.

Sleepy Hollow 107 - The Midnight Ride 2Rebirth of A Reluctant Hero

And it is the latter – the razor sharp, fervently earnest poster boy for 18th century honor and integrity that is Ichabod Crane – who appears to have quite succinctly lopped the head off that fear that contemporary TV writers would never be able to translate the elegant wonder of this character into a TV-based script for modern day audiences. Because that’s exactly what they did.

Which is no mean feat when you think about it. After all, Ichabod Crane is a handwritten love note in a dumped-via-text-message world: how could he possibly come off as either real or believable, as a vintage character in a contemporary context? More than that, how could an actor portray him with, at once, freshness and authenticity, without making him perpetually sound like he’s part way through auditioning for Hamlet?

Well, aside from the sterling work done in the SH writers room (and really, bravo you lot because as it currently stands, I feel like I speak for many when I say we love you all more than cake and fireworks for what you’ve done so far), it wouldn’t be too long a bow to draw in saying that the actor who portrays Crane – British actor Tom Mison – is likewise to be enormously congratulated for the way he has brought him to life.

Mison’s Ichabod is delightful creature of pure, stubborn elegance: a man of old world manners in a new world that for the most part has none. Turning traitor on the English during the American Revolutionary War and defecting to Washington’s guard; offering up his life so earnestly to kill the mysterious Horseman who fights as a masked Hessian soldier for the British forces; his willingness to act upon a conscience in crisis: his entire back story is one of honor, courage and loyalty. And yet warring with that is his absolute lack of lofty attitude in light of these things, and a quietly simmering emotional vulnerability that seems to poke daily and incessantly at his penchant for addressing his ridiculous situation as dispassionately as possible.

Pretty Wordsmithery & A Wit To Match Sleepy Hollow Pilot

Ichabod has so many wonderful, multifaceted qualities as both an individual character and as part of a wider group of them. But what exactly is it about this version that seems to have struck such a nerve?

Well, in truth, it’s hard to make an argument against the fact that it is by far the class, elegance and beauty in his communication to others, that is the magic ingredient here. It’s very old in its history, but also very new and different in the context of our current TV cultural climate.

Indeed, it feels impossible not to love every exquisitely clipped and enunciated turn of vintage Gothic phrase that comes out of this man’s mouth. But aside from that, there’s also somewhat of a challenge to us as viewers that is worth both highlighting and relishing: a challenge to not be lazy in how we speak to each other; rather, to value being smart with the way that we communicate as opposed to just simply intelligent. In simpler terms, if intelligence is knowing how to spell the big word, then smart is knowing how to it correctly in a sentence, and Crane strikes me very much as someone who would prize the latter.

It’s a show that will remind you – even in its most wildly outlandish scene – of the power of taking the time to speak earnestly, gracefully, and succinctly in a way that demonstrates a belief that it’s not just what we say that matters, but how we say it.

He also says the word ‘leftenant’ perfectly, AND in a way that would seem to indicate he’s not the kind of person to subsequently Google search what a ‘rightenant’ is. Judge me if you will but for this little word nerd? The right word – flawlessly articulated and perfectly timed – is sexier than basically everything ever.

It’s Frightfully Good Fun

The other really wonderful element of the writing in this show, of course, is the quirky and delightful sense of humor it shows. This is the result of a bit of a perfect meeting, really, in two ways. The first lies in the sense that the screenwriters are quite happy to not only address but also have a wonderful giggle at the obvious cultural friction that occurs between Ichabod and the contemporary world’s sensibilities.

This has made for some fantastically fun scenes: Ichabod’s impromptu counselling session with Yolanda, the Roadside Assistance Phone Operator; his and Abbie’s exchanges about donut holes, tax levies on baked goods and effective crowd heckling at sporting matches. These are just to name a few.

Sleepy Hollow 1x03 - For the Triumph of Evil 7The second half of this winning-combination lies in the excellent casting of Nicole Beharie opposite Tom Mison, in her role as Lt. Abbie Mills. She absolutely shines in this character’s shoes; despite Abbie and Ichabod’s different worlds, she and Mison have found a way to create a genuine, sparky synergy that an audience cannot help but love. Beharie’s Abbie likewise gets some meaty storylines of her own: namely those pertaining to her younger sister Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), and her boss, Captain Irving (played by Orlando Jones in arguably his best role to date).

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Now, granted, it might seem a little ridiculous, a little too fervent, to write a piece such as this about a show that – whilst (deservedly) finding itself on ‘Best Of’ lists left, right and center at the moment – is not even a whole season in.

But I think I speak for more than myself when I say talking about these things – about the reasons why we here at TVAD are drawn to the particular shows we cover, and what exactly has drawn us to them – is really important for you, dear reader, to know: because this is where our passion comes from as writers, reviewers, re-cappers, but most importantly in the end, as fans.

The second we stop writing without passion, we stop writing honestly. And if a room full of writers and actors and crews and directors are dedicated enough to give up their time to make great television for us as viewers every week, then the least people like us here at TVAD – who are blessed with a platform such as we have, to engage with fans and the shows they love – can do is use the voice that we have to say “Here is the nerve you struck, here’s why it was good or bad, and here is why I will come back”.

A Seriously Great Show That Makes It Great To Be A Fan

If you are someone who relishes when people start treating wit, fire and eloquence in speech in everyday life a rule again, as opposed to the exception, you will love this show. If you are someone who appreciates good fun, a good storyline and a bit of a fright on a regular basis, you will love this show.

In short, my recommendation to you, dear reader, of this marvelous offering all boils down to this:

HERE’S WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT THIS SHOW: It has the power to remind you in best way possible about what a wonderful, wonderful thing great television is and has the potential to be. Indeed, it doesn’t ever waste the chance to remind you of this either.

HERE’S WHAT YOU MIGHT FIND BAD: This show is addictive; the moment the episodes run out for you to watch, the withdrawals will poke at your brain worse than a kid with ADHD in the seat behind you ten minutes in to a 23 hour flight. This show is just that good.

HERE’S WHY WE THINK YOU’LL BE ENTICED TO GO BACK: The team behind Sleepy Hollow have successfully taken one of the most beloved literary characters of all time and breathed a marvelous new life into him through great writing and great acting. For those of you who have yet to tune in, know that this is the kind of show that will earn your respect. For those of you who are already fans, nine episodes in and one surmises that there is every chance you are no less hooked now than you were the second you first tuned in.

And, on a more self indulgent note – one which I sincerely hope my lovely editor let’s me keep! – I really want to say a sincere thank you on my own behalf, as a fan, to the people involved in creating this wonderful show. You remind me why I love to write about television, and life. For that, I must thank you. And I think I speak for all of us when I say we can’t wait to see what you’ve got planned next. 

 Sleepy Hollow returns on FOX Mon 13 Jan, 2014 8|7c