To believe the characters on FOX' new genre drama Sleepy Hollow as real people, it's best to imagine they are the kinds of people who wish their lives were more like a television show-- specifically one like The CW's Supernatural. Only then will you understand their behavior when encountering Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a man who is completely calm and collected about recounts of beheading a Patriot and working for George Washington. See, rather than reach for the straitjacket, as any sane one of us would do, they humor him by saying things like "It's not a matter of where [you are]; it's a matter of when", and one (Nicole Beharie) even goes so far as to rally for time alone with him. These are law enforcement professionals who first picked up him up on suspicion of another murder-- law enforcement professionals in a small town who must be, even subconsciously, looking for a little excitement to brighten up their usual calls of spooked horses and kittens in trees. Suspension of disbelief is required with all genre shows, but the Sleepy Hollow pilot requires you to turn your brain full off for an hour.
To be honest, there actually is a lot about Sleepy Hollow that reminds me of Supernatural. The most obvious parallels that come to mind deal with Ichabod himself. He is resurrected from a fresh dirt-covered grave, one hand clawing upward and out ala Dean Winchester. And once he is safely in 2013, his fish-out-of-water nature takes a turn for the comical-- from his wide eyes while playing with a powered car window, to the confusion over two Starbucks in two blocks and women wearing pants, to the slightly more cringeworthy comment slavery obviously being abolished because an African American police officer is standing in front of him. Then there's the fact that the Headless Horseman is a representation of death itself and a symbol of the apocalypse, returned at the same time as Ichabod, and the groundwork is perfectly laid that he has been brought back to stop this terrible thing from happening. Though, he was human once, so his past attachments and new ones to inevitably be formed will end up distracting, tugging at his attention and his heartstrings.
Perhaps it isn't completely fair to Sleepy Hollow to compare it to a genre show on another network, though. I don't assume there will be a ton of crossover in the audience. But it's hard to ignore just how familiar the themes and story points of Sleepy Hollow feel, including the young cop oh-so-conveniently having her own connection to everything. Some of the shots even feel familiar-- the Horseman's broad axe cutting through the side of a barn is certainly reminiscent of a few horror projects before this. And the beats (and deaths per act of people marked as "guest stars") certainly ring reminiscent, too. It all adds up to what would be an extremely visually pleasing and compelling close-ended story to air around Halloween time. But since it is not designed that way, the pilot struggles to include so many little pieces of what it hopes will be utterly irresistible story that keeps you tuning in week after week. The end result is messy and at times downright silly, and while the audience may have fun watching Sleepy Hollow, it's at the characters' expense as they take themselves, and the insane world in which they live, extremely seriously.
It is unclear whether the legend of Ichabod Crane exists in this world within the show, but it is safe to assume probably not because no one flinches when he mentions his name. Somehow he seems to have managed to just be any other soldier who "died" on that battlefield two hundred and fifty years ago, able to have actually been placed under a spell and buried in a cave for safekeeping completely secretly. It is only now, in present day, that the man has the chance to turn into legend. The way the pilot plays with legend, religion, and history is the most interesting thing about it.
The pilot explains this through a monologue of exposition in Ichabod's dream, a scene that feels tacked on at last minute to quell some of the confusion and prove they could provide some answers about the hows and the whys, even if not the why nows, by pilot's end. It's also a scene that delivers information that you need this early in to care about Ichabod and to want to see more from the mythology, but the rushed, last minute fashion in which it is delivered undermines its importance. And that rushed, last minute fashion also proves how poorly paced Sleepy Hollow as a pilot is. Knowing just how much story needs to be set up, looking back after the final moments of the pilot, you realize just how much prime real estate feels wasted on redundant fish out of water moments when so many bigger things were at stake. It's not at all hard to lose one's self in the bumpy ride that is this story, and just as I had finally given over and into it completely, something like this scene (or a previous flashback that had an actor donning unimpressive prosthetics to portray Washington himself) came along to smack me back to reality. But nothing does that for the characters-- the pilot is one big shining light on why Beharie's Abbie needs to believe-- so it creates a disconnect that's hard to get over so late in the episode.
Mison and Beharie both do admirable jobs of trying to keep the story as grounded as possible by playing their roles with complete devotion and earnesty. Their chemistry balances out some of the crazy around them, and it's easy to watch the wackiness of their world drop out when they are alone in scenes together, focusing on feeling out their growing relationship just as they are doing the same. They offer hope that Sleepy Hollow can come into its own as something beyond just campy entertainment, but the pilot doesn't deliver on that hope just yet. I assume a good chunk of the audience might not want it to evolve past that anyway. There is certainly something to be said for losing yourself and your own daily problems in something completely insane and fantastical, even for one hour once in a while. But will you want that for a few weeks or the seven year partnership that the pilot optimistically promises? You can judge for yourself when Sleepy Hollow premieres on FOX on September 16 2013 at 9 p.m.
Want more Sleepy Hollow news and reviews? Follow LA TV Insider Examiner on Twitter!