‘Sleepy Hollow’ Pilot Recap: “Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr. Crane”

The fall 2013 TV season has officially commenced, and here come the brand new shows. From the results of last week’s poll, Fox’s supernatural drama ‘Sleepy Hollow’ emerged as one of the front-runners for interest among our readers. It’s the type of show I usually go for as well, even though (or perhaps because) most of the previews looked cheesy as hell. The pilot episode aired on Monday night and… yeah, it kind of is cheesy as hell. But is that a bad thing?

Just to put this out there in case (however unlikely) some small amount of confusion existed, while this new ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is obviously a re-imagining of Washington Irving’s famous short story ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, it has nothing to do with Tim Burton’s 1999 feature film re-imagining of the same story. I’m sure most of you probably gathered as much already, but I figured that it’s worth mentioning anyway.

This version comes from hack screenwriters Alex Kurtman and Roberto Orci (the pair responsible for much dreck the likes of ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen‘, ‘Cowboys & Aliens‘ and this summer’s hugely disappointing ‘Star Trek into Darkness‘), as well as uber-hack director Len Wiseman (of the ‘Underworld‘ franchise and the pointless ‘Total Recall‘ remake). “Hold on a second,” you might be saying, “Kurztman and Orci were also writers and producers on ‘Fringe’, which was mostly a pretty cool show.” Sure, maybe, but (speaking as someone who stuck with it right to the end) you can’t ignore that the plotting and “mythology” of that show were sloppy even in its good years and turned into an embarrassingly contradictory mess as it went along. Even more to the point, any positive merit one of their decent shows might have is counterbalanced by other garbage they churn out, such as CBS’s ‘Hawaii Five-0’ reboot (also in conjunction with Wiseman).

What I’m getting at here is that, going into it, I knew that ‘Sleepy Hollow’ could go either way. And to be perfectly honest about it, I was predisposed to assume that it probably wouldn’t be very good. Is that unfair? Given the track records of the creators, I personally don’t think so. Fool me once, and all that…

Anyway, so, the ‘Pilot’ episode opens in 1781. Former mild-mannered schoolteacher Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison from the genteel British period soap ‘Parade’s End’) fights for the American army in the Revolutionary War, and he’s a wicked badass, blowing away, hacking, slashing, stabbing and murderizing dozens of those nasty Redcoats to the left, right and all over the place. You see a Redcoat somewhere, Crane is up in his face killin’ the bastard. School’s out, suckazzzz!!!

But then… Oh shit! From out of nowhere comes a nine-foot-tall Jason Voorhees motherfucker in a red coat and a hockey mask, galloping in on a white horse, and he is one tough-ass evil sonofabitch. Like a hundred guys try to kill him, and he just slices through them with his giant battle axe like nothin’. Only one man can save the day, and hence save the fate of the entire free world, and that man is superhero Ichabod “Here Comes the Pain” Crane, and he ain’t takin’ no shit from nobody today. BAM! He shoots that giant Redcoat with his musket. STAB! Right to the chest with his sword. That’ll do it… Huh? What the hell? How is this guy still standing? AWWW NOOOO!! Crane gets slashed right across his own chest. But he’s such a stud that, even as he falls down with his last dying breath, Crane swings hard with his sword and chops the evil horseman’s head right off. That’s it, dude. Lights out for the both of them. The end.

All of this encompasses about 30 seconds of the episode. (Seriously, this thing moves at a frantic pace.) Smash-cut to the present day. Crane wakes up and claws his way out of a grave hidden in a cave, no idea where he is or what happened to him. He is rudely surprised by the existence of automobiles, not to mention black people walking around freely as if they’re not slaves or something. How peculiar!

In the small New England town of Sleepy Hollow, the sheriff (Clancy Brown) has a fatherly bond with young lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). They have a heart-to-heart about how proud he is that she’s about to leave their podunk village behind to attend the FBI Academy at Quantico, which should be all the clue you need to know that Sheriff Clancy won’t make it all the way to the end of the episode alive. As it happens, he doesn’t even make it to the first commercial break. On a dark and foggy night, they’re called to investigate a disturbance at a local farm. Before you can say “Special Guest Star,” the sheriff walks into a barn, sees a giant Headless Horseman, and finds his own head suddenly rolling on the ground beside him. Abbie witnesses the demon killer ride away on his white steed and is traumatized.

At this point, we’re maybe five minutes into the episode. The show may be jam-packed with dumb clichés, but it sure does plow through them quickly.

The next morning, Ichabod walks into town, all agog at the strangeness of modern life. He’s immediately arrested by Deputy John Cho, on the charge of looking like he might be homeless. He gets locked up at the police station, where Captain Orlando Jones is a raging dick, and the writers demonstrate that they have absolutely no idea about the distinction between a sheriff’s department and local PD. (Really, who is Abbie supposed to work for?)

Captain Orlando Jones thinks that Ichabod must have killed the sheriff, because he dresses funny and speaks in a British accent. Abbie (afraid to tell anyone that the perp she saw was lacking a head) believes that Crane can help her get to the bottom of all these weird shenanigans. Much convoluted plotting ensues. I’ll try to cut to the chase here:

The town is a long-standing battleground between two witches’ covens, one good and one evil. The evil ones want to destroy the world, and our buddy HH is the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse described in the Bible. Ichabod’s wife was a good witch who saved his life with a magic resurrecting spell, but it had the side effect of resurrecting HH with him. Ol’ Headless needs his head back to get on with the business of apocalyzing the world, and only Abbie and Ichabod can stop him. Deputy John Cho turns out to be a devil-worshipping collaborator, but he’s also pretty ineffectual and gets caught, so Satan smites him. By the end of the episode, the Horseman gears up with shotguns and assault rifles and goes all Terminator on the town to reclaim his head, which culminates in a silly shootout in a foggy cemetery until dawn breaks, at which point we learn that he’s also a vampire and can’t be out in the sunlight. Whew! That’s lucky.

As if you hadn’t already assumed as much from her introductory scene, Abbie decides to forgo her plans for the FBI Academy and stick around town to fight evil with her time-traveling sidekick.

Pros: I actually kind of like Mison as Ichabod. He does well with the fish-out-of-water stuff. Beharie is also not too annoying. The premise of the show is so silly that it could be fun on a camp level.

Cons: The show is really, really stupid and cheesy. The pilot episode is more dumb than entertaining. (Tim Burton’s version was just as ridiculous, but way more fun.) To be fair, that may be because the pilot suffers the burden of dispensing so much plot set-up. Wiseman’s overbearing direction doesn’t help much. He plays the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” not once but twice (Do you get it? Sympathy for the devil – that’s like, thematic and stuff) and it sounds totally misplaced and inappropriate both times. It’s possible that the show could become more entertaining once it settles into its groove.

Should I continue to watch this? I don’t know. If so, it certainly wouldn’t be the worst series I’ve ever followed. (I’m still committed to ‘Under the Dome’ for some irrational reason.) This will have to come down to time, other commitments, and how generous I feel when the next episode airs.


  1. EM

    I don’t watch much new TV, but I gave Sleepy Hollow a shot. I kinda liked it but was a little troubled at times (yeah, the police captain/sheriff’s department thing confused the heck out of me, too). In particular, I was nonplussed when the mythology established in dialogue the notion that this one particular superarc might be intended to run for seven years. I seriously question the sustainability. But maybe that’s not really the plan anyway.

  2. William Henley

    Josh, you pretty much voiced everything I thought going into, and coming out of this show.

    Going in, I knew the basic plot, and who wrote it, and was thinking it was going to be garbage, but the Plot was just so cheesy, I had to give it a shot. And actually found it enjoyable. I was even more surprised to find that there was actually a decent story here (or rather, a story that makes sense – it is still cheesy as hell).

    I think this show actually has some potential. I plan to pick up the second episode tonight or tomorrow on Hulu (it’s sad that I wait for a show to come on Hulu because I think the HD streams on Hulu are of higher quality than what gets broadcast. Maybe I just have a crappy tunner in my TV. Also, the TV only has stereo output back to my reciever, so no surround).

    Under The Dome I am done with. I gave it four episodes. Great idea, HORRIBLY executed. I guess I could go look at the writing staff, but I am too lazy, but this feels a LOT like Stargate Universe – ie Let’s take a bunch of people who the audience will not connect with, make them all psychopaths, stick them in a confined area with limited resources, and see what happens.

  3. I just caught up with the pilot last weekend and thought it was a lot of fun.

    One nitpick: everytime there’s a show on TV that deals with the last book of the Bible, they almost ALWAYS call it “Revelations” – the book it titled “Revelation”! This always irked me, because the book is ONE Revelation, not a bunch of them. I just think characters come off looking like idiots when they say it wrong. It also makes me wonder if the writers ever actually bother to pick up a copy of the book they’re always referencing. 🙂

    Anyway, that pet peeve aside, I think this show has potential (FOX has already said it’s coming back for Season Two).

    • William Henley

      The majority of Christians call it Revelations as well. I’ve given up trying to say to people that there was only one Revelation given in the book (it was just a LONG Revelation). Truthfully, the book should really be called “The Prophetic Dream of John the Apostle” as it is more of a prophecy or vision than something actually being revealed.

      I think its more of a cultural thing. I still catch myself slipping from time to time and slipping an S on the end.

    • EM

      Another well-established, if less common, English short-form name for this book is Apocalypse, which is derived from a Greek word that means “revelation” (singular).

      • William Henley

        Sadly, this meaning has all but gotten lost in modern society, with people thinking that Apocalypse means the end of the world. As EM said, its not – its a Greek (apokalyptein) and Latain (apocalypsis) word meaning Revelation.

        It was first translated into English as the word Apocalypse in 1230 and Revelation by Wyclif in 1380.


        • EM

          I don’t agree that it’s sad. English already has a perfectly good word revelation; while synonyms can be nice, apocalypse in that meaning is quite unnecessary. On the other hand, apocalypse in the sense of worldwide doom colorfully fills a niche.

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