You Must Watch

10.08.13

‘Sleepy Hollow’ Is TV’s Craziest, Most Over-the-Top New Show ... And You Should Watch It

Fox’s modern take on the Washington Irving classic is the first fall TV show to get renewed. Amy Zimmerman on the ridiculous plot, over-the-top tone, and unabashed silliness viewers seem to love.

Sleepy Hollow, Fox’s new fantasy-mystery-drama is, by all definitions, a huge success.

Sleepy Hollow
The headless horseman in Sleepy Hollow. (Kent Smith/Fox)

A modern-day take on the Washington Irving classic, the show drew over 13.6 million viewers to its premiere and was renewed after only three episodes, making it the first of this fall’s batch of new network TV series to earn a second season. This feat was made all the more impressive considering that, unlike James Spader’s The Blacklist, Robin Williams’s The Crazy Ones, or The Michael J. Fox Show, the show premiered with no A-list stars and little advance buzz.

All of these accomplishments spelled good news for the freshman series. There’s only one problem: this show is absolutely, unequivocally, astonishingly insane.

Here’s why:

The premise

The pilot of Sleepy Hollow opens on a Revolutionary War battlefield. A dreamy, blue-eyed rebel is approached by a mercenary wearing a scary mask. The rebel eventually succeeds in cutting off the mercenary’s head, but is mortally wounded in the process. Next thing he knows, the rebel is waking up in a dank cave centuries later. Gone are men traveling by galloping horses. Confused, he wanders onto busy streets of Westchester, disrupting traffic.

The rebel Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) isn’t the only one revived after two and a half centuries—so is the headless horseman. Cue the intrigue ... and the corny jokes about what in the world cellphones are and those crazy machines with wheels that cart people around town without horses. Heh.

The End Times

We soon learn that our beloved soldier, Ichabod Crane, has gotten himself involved in some serious voodoo. He arrived in town at exactly the wrong time, following the murder of a police lieutenant. Ichabod makes a pretty good murder suspect: he’s new to town and, apparently, insane. However, the plot quickly thickens. (In Sleepy Hollow, the plot is constantly thickening.)

Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) was the fallen lieutenant’s partner and the only one who saw the murderer escape the crime scene. She and Ichabod quickly realize that the murderer is none other than the guy Ichabod killed, ax style, on the battlefield. Turns out the horseman is back with a vengeance, sans head, intent on murdering the civilians of Sleepy Hollow. With the help of some secret files, a couple of visions from Ichabod’s dead witch wife (more on her later), and Abbie’s own supernatural past (yeah, we’ll circle back to that one, too), Ichabod and Abbie begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Who needs Rizzoli & Isles when a man who thinks it’s still the 18th century and a woman who doesn’t find this completely absurd are on the case?

What do they discover? Naturally, the headless horseman is really the first horseman of the apocalypse. He’s come to usher in the end of days. Bummer, right? And this whole apocalypse thing extends way beyond the tri-state area: Abbie and Ichabod must work together to stop the horseman and his evil posse in order to save the entire world. Cue the shenanigans.

The Crew

Sleepy Hollow is populated by a bunch of lovable, strange heroes. The principal weirdos are our protagonists, the crime-fighting duo of Lt. Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane. In classic TV style, this pair of oddballs proves that opposites really do attract. He’s an Oxford professor; she’s a pragmatic police officer. He’s married to a dead witch; she’s single (but ostensibly not ready to mingle). He’s never heard of the Emancipation Proclamation; she’s black. Let the witty, largely uncomfortable banter begin.

Ichabod is like a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, always saying adorably outdated things like, “Is this an admiralty court?” and, “When did it become acceptable for women to wear trousers?” We get it: he’s old and funny. Meanwhile, Mills is one tough lady. She’s reticent to believe Ichabod’s backstory, and only does because she sees the opportunity to solve her partner’s murder. Of course, this being Sleepy Hollow, Mills has had her own brushes with the supernatural. As a child, she and her sister (who will get involved in the action by the end of Episode 2) were visited by a demon in the forest.

Speaking of the forest, that’s exactly where Ichabod’s wife, Katrina Crane (Katia Winter), hangs out. Katrina, who was hung for witchcraft, is trapped in a woodland inferno between the two worlds. Of course, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for a character who, despite being stuck in a hellish limbo, always sports a serious push-up bra and perfectly winged eyeliner. But Katrina isn’t the only (semi-dead) citizen of Sleepy Hollow with supernatural powers. Ichabod and Mills have to contend with a whole host of demonic dudes, from the skinless witch who’s resurrected in Episode 2 to the Sandman who haunts the third episode of the series.

Clearly, Sleepy Hollow is the weirdest town in Westchester. This might explain why the entire police squad is so incredibly blasé. Everyone seems more interested in making fun of Ichabod’s accent than taking a second to wonder how a man with no head can ride a horse. The worst of the bunch is officer Andy Brooks (John Cho, of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle fame). In the pilot, Brooks proves himself to be the lamest cop of all time by agreeing to lead the headless horseman to his head. Seriously, man? What’s your long game here? We soon learn that Andy isn’t just startling incompetent, but actually evil: he’s working with the demonic forces to usher in the end of days. Gasp!

Too Much is Never Enough

Sleepy Hollow isn’t merely insane because of its premise, location, or cast. What makes it truly crazy is the fact that it’s so unabashedly over the top. The show doesn’t even attempt to hide its tacky DNA. The camera will flash from a shot of Ichabod and Mills staring into each other’s eyes to the haunting gaze of a priest, in full dress, muttering Latin under his breath. Who knew there were so many priests in Westchester?

Sure, Sleepy Hollow is haunted by all sorts of goons and loons. But even more surprising than the evilness of these characters is their outrageous lack of subtlety. A fleshless witch has no qualms about strutting her (disturbing) stuff around the suburban streets, while the headless horseman’s red-eyed demonic horse canters around like a hapless show pony. In this sci-fi take on everyone’s favorite NYC suburb, the arrival of a new evil beast is greeted with about as much fanfare as the opening of a new Lululemon: it’s nothing they haven’t seen before. The show has a lot of fun skirting around the edges of the absurd. Mills can’t find her perp in a line up, because none of the men assembled are headless. While Ichabod, constantly haunted by visions of his witchcraft-practicing, bodice-heaving wife, still always has a moment to go on an insanely long rant about his indignation over modern day taxation.

Sleepy Hollow is as crazy and ballsy as its two leads. It’s unapologetically bad, boldly heavy-handed, and mercilessly fun. We couldn’t agree more with the show’s decision to play the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” at the end of the pilot. As the camera pans over Ichabod, wearing his trademark serious expression, “Please allow me to introduce myself,” croons like a seriously unsubtle brag—something along the lines of, “Hell yeah, that just happened.” And while Sleepy Hollow might just be introducing itself, something tells us that this ridiculous ride is just getting started.