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Sleepy Hollow (Or: Here There Be Spoilers)

Illustration for article titled Sleepy Hollow (Or: Here There Be Spoilers)

So, ten episodes in, I want to talk about Sleepy Hollow, because this show is pissing me off. It's a show with a solid premise (guy from past comes to future to fight hellish army/stop the Apocalypse with the help of a police detective), a talented cast (we'll get to them) with a surprising density of better-than-you'd-expect actors in recurring roles, and moments of pure bliss (we'll get to these, too). It also has no fucking idea what it wants to be — does it want to be scary? Suspenseful? Emotional and thoughtful? A buddy cop movie? It's trying each of those things to see what fits, only it has no ability to blend any of them and make them work together.

First off, it's really, really bad at being scary. Like, SO BAD, you guys. If you're not making me jump, you suck at inducing fear; I'm basically a particularly skittish chipmunk when it comes to this stuff. The suspense is only marginally better (and isn't remotely as good as Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow's most similar comparison, was from moment one). As for emotion, the show made one of its biggest mistakes in doing the "tearful and emotional character sacrifice episode" five freaking episodes in, when it wasn't remotely believable and should have been saved for later. I can't get over how much of a bad decision that was. And the buddy cop stuff? That could totally work, only they won't commit to it and Mison and Beharie don't quite gel enough to fully pull it off (we're getting there).

The thing I think most people don't want to admit is that right now this show is being carried by two things (three if you count the fact that everyone involved in this show is GORGEOUS, and four if you count whatever genius — and I mean that sincerely — made the decision to give the Headless Horseman an axe in one hand and an assault rifle in the other), one more obvious than the other: any time Ichabod encounters modern technology/culture (wonderfully written scenes brought to another level by the fact that there may not be a modern actor who pulls off flustered incredulity as well as Tom Mison), and Orlando Jones. Jones has been the real surprise here: he's taken potentially one of the least interesting characters on the show and turned it into the single most compelling character other than possibly Ichabod (more impressive than what Mison's done since it comes with a higher degree of difficulty). Based on his role in the early episodes, I have to assume he was intended mainly as a straight man/plot dispenser (basically, Katrina with a badge) and not designed for a more prominent role...only it quickly became apparent that Jones was WAY too good to relegate to the bench, and they shifted focus to make his seemingly-flat character a bigger part of the series. If this IS what happened, it counts as easily the best decision the showrunners have made. Unfortunately, Jones's example in doing a lot with an uninteresting role is one Nicole Beharie hasn't quite managed to follow.

Here's the thing: I don't think Nicole Beharie is a bad actress. I don't think the character of Abbey Mills is her fault. But goddamn is that a boring character. Her entire purpose seems to serve as a straight man for Crane, which makes sense, only every time they try to get her a moment of personality, it just doesn't work. The real problem here might be that she and Mison just don't seem to have any chemistry, because when Beharie is put into scenes with Lyndie Greenwood (Jenny), both of them absolutely crush it together. If this is the problem, it might be insoluble long-term, because you can't have a successful show centered around two characters where the two of them aren't quite believable together. Does Supernatural even make it to the end of its first season if Ackles and Padalecki aren't utterly believable as bickering brothers from moment one? I say no.

Speaking of Jenny, she's another problem: that should be the most interesting character on the show, and in many ways she is...only it doesn't quite work because her backstory is self-contradictory and full of holes. 1) How the fuck was she being sent around the world to act as a Freedom Fighter by Corbin (where the hell did he get the money for this?), 2) how is it remotely possible Abbey never knew about the connection there (she's a fucking police detective, for god's sake, you'd think she would've suspected SOMETHING at some point), and most importantly, 3) how the hell did she get herself caught and sent to a mental institution for stealing survival goods after years of experience as a certified mercenary badass (and how did Clancy not pull strings to get her out afterwards)? Nothing about this character's backstory makes sense (unless, of course, the "freedom fighter" angle was tacked on four episodes in and they never planned for it initially — NOT THAT SOMETHING LIKE THAT EVER HAPPENS). Nothing. Give her credit: Greenwood plays the part about as well as you can, but the plotting for this show is such an absentminded mess that you can never quite suspend disbelief.

There are ways to fix the character issues, and to the showrunners' credit, they seem to have identified a few of them. They figured out that they didn't have enough interesting characters, so it looks like they're attempting to correct that by involving Macey, Irving's daughter — and in casting Amandla Stenberg, they made the other smartest decision of the series. Please, for the love of God, give us more scenes with her; any time she's on screen, she's the most interesting thing happening. Multiple people I've talked to also seem to believe that they're working up to freeing Katrina from Purgatory and having her come back to life as a cast member, which, considering how flat THAT character is, may not be the best move. And they're trying to do something with John Cho's character in making him a reluctant villain, only they're botching it horribly. It's starting to look like they've correctly identified the problems with the series, only they're not taking the right steps to fix them.

All in all, I'm disappointed with where the show's at right now. I desperately want it to succeed — when it works, it's outstanding AND important (find me another non-exploitative show where over half the cast consist of POC and there are this many prominent and varied women characters). And it could succeed. It really could. But it has a long way to go — far longer than Supernatural ever did, and with less of a leash than Sam and Dean got (since it's airing on Fox, you know it's one ratings misstep from getting unceremoniously yanked and replaced by So You Think You Can Squeegee). I hope it gets there soon, because it's starting to look like it's going to re-enact Ralph Sampson's NBA career in TV show form (obscure basketball reference alert!).

PS. I would've said Len Bias's career, but that's Firefly and you can't tell me any different.

ETA: Something I forgot to add earlier: is it possible for them to have fucked up any harder on the Jeremy Crane thing? "Oh hey, we're going to introduce a potential plotline in one episode, then in the next one we'll just casually mention that the character got killed Because Reasons." It's not the anti-climactic on a "finale of Lost"-level, but it's pretty bad.
ETA II: Electric Boogaloo: People are making a FAR bigger deal out of "the show succeeded at a ridiculous premise!" than they should. No, it didn't. This show does not have a ridiculous premise. It's not a "ridiculous premise" just because it involves magic and time-travel. Those elements do not make it "ridiculous," they make it "sci-fi/fantasy." Just because it isn't a fucking procedural cop show doesn't make the premise "ridiculous." It saddens me that the people who say this don't expect this level of originality out of their entertainment.


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