ARTS ISSUE: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ embraces absurdity, entertains allPosted on December 5, 2013 | by Jeremy Grossman
Some shows take a while before they start having fun. “Sleepy Hollow” started having fun on day one.
In the pilot episode of FOX’s surprise hit, the show immediately throws its viewer a jumble of supernatural elements — time travel, ghosts, demons, witches and of course, the legendary Headless Horseman. With a nearly overwhelming amount of fantastic elements to absorb, it seemed impossible that audiences would warm to a show that so fully embraced absurdity.
But “Sleepy Hollow” defied all odds, coming out as one of the biggest successes on a TV season that’s seen more flops than hits. The reason why many new shows have failed or disappointed — ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” or The CW’s “The Tomorrow People” — is that they have held back, whereas “Sleepy Hollow” explores outlandish options. Audiences don’t have the patience for a show that doesn’t come roaring from the get-go because the attention spans of most viewers are at an all-time low.
Except it’s not just the fast pace and supernatural stories that make “Sleepy Hollow” such a ratings smash — it’s the fact that creators Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove and Len Wiseman take their show seriously while also having a good time. Any show that stars a time-traveling Ichabod Crane is going to be a bit goofy. Rather than letting their show become trash, as it easily could, the creators have developed an intricate mythology that is well-planned and well-executed.
The mythology isn’t so convoluted that it ruins viewers’ ability to watch the show. If you’re paying close attention to each episode, you’ll enjoy “Sleepy Hollow” to its full extent. But even if you’re a casual viewer and aren’t fully aware of why your protagonist is a time-traveling Revolutionary War soldier, you will still find the show enjoyable. The performances and excellent spooky visual effects are enough to keep all viewers entertained.
These are two major areas where “Sleepy Hollow” stands out. The show’s lead, Tom Mison, has loads of fun playing Ichabod, who travels from the past and is baffled by the oddities of the 21st century — a shtick that could quickly grow tiresome, but doesn’t. Mison’s chemistry with co-star Nicole Beharie, who plays Lt. Abbie Mills, is a knockout, and their characters have quickly and smoothly evolved from a mismatched pair to a legitimate dynamic duo.
As for visual effects, “Sleepy Hollow” matches the scariest of what TV has to offer, especially for network television. The show does not hold back on its imagery. In the first episode, a goat-like, devilish creature called Moloch snaps the neck of one of his minions — anyone who sees this scene won’t soon forget it. Two episodes later, Moloch is one-upped by The Sandman, an evil spirit with no eyes and no mouth, who murders his victims in a horrific Dream World.
Yes, “Sleepy Hollow” is insane, and yes, sometimes it feels like it bites off more than it can chew. But unlike most other shows of the fall season, at least this one will not make you want to sleep.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 5 print edition. Jeremy Grossman is arts editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.