It got tons of viewers, renewed for a second season by episode 3, has a handsome British guy and a couple of pantheon-level deliverers of good TV dialogue, and is from some of the guys who made Fringe. So what’s not to like?
Y’know, I really don’t know what to say about Sleepy Hollow. I watch every week. I chuckle at good bits of dialogue and plot. I perk up when certain characters slip into a scene. I exchange excited emails about it with a friend and, along with said friend, have bored the other participants of a game of Settlers of Catan with half sentences of “That thing where he walks in.” “I KNOW!!”
Why, then, is the first draft of this review several hundred words amounting to “Not as bad as I’d thought, some fun stuff, ummm… yeah I suppose it’s watchable.” The problem lies in trying to sort out the difference between a show you can watch, and maybe one you ‘should’ be watching.1 Are you missing out on fill in the blank good qualities if not? Do you risk being outside of a cultural conversation? Is it appointment television?
We have to set that last one aside because it’s clearly no longer the thing it was.2 As for the rest – Sleepy Hollow has some good writing, some great lines, some interesting plots, some tasty hints of ways they’ll use characters3, overall effective use of its special effects budget, and some very good acting.4 It slots into the top half if not top third of hour-longs on TV this fall – competent, rising to excellent at times.
The problem so far5 is the show becomes less than the sum of that list of superlatives. Normally a show about things supernatural with stock characters, made-for-network production values, and aesthetically appealing actors fails that equation by making mistakes. Plots get too eye-rolling; dialogue thuds to the ground like a head chopped off by a 250-year-old demon; actors can’t. That’s not so much what’s happening with Sleepy Hollow6; rather, this show seems to ignore its own examples of how to do things right.
Take, for example, Detectives Handsome and Studly (Morales and Jones). Morales gets introduced an episode or two prior to Jones, and is obviously a plot element – he used to date Abbie, he’s suspicious of Ichabod – while Jones shows up out of nowhere7 in episode four and… is a cop doing cop things and doing them well. He doesn’t stick out in scenes; he does what he’s supposed to and gets off screen. Meanwhile, Morales is stuck showing you why he exists.8 And here’s the kicker – lest you think the two performances are mutually exclusive, remember the pilot: Deputy Andy9 was a person, exuding a sense of character in the vein of Jones not a sense of plot in the vein of Morales, only to be smoothly revealed to be a plot element with a deeper purpose.
This weaker-than-it-needs-to-be characterization is mirrored in the disjointedness of the overall plot. Again, plenty of valid threads, plenty of interesting details and people and places and demons to be a part of this world. And, again, Sleepy Hollow isn’t adding these together in a substantial way. Abbie’s sister – the focus of episodes three and four – doesn’t get a mention in episode five, meaning you could have shuffled the order and we wouldn’t have noticed. There’s a danger in being too specific early-on in your world-building as it can lock you into plot or dialogue requirements you’d rather have avoided. But pinning the responsibility for continuity on your characters alone risks putting you a step above an anthology series, especially when you’re clearly not sure how to make the most of the characters and actors you have.
I’m going down a rabbit hole here in pursuit of the conclusion that Sleepy Hollow misses easy opportunities to be a lot better. This is probably preferable to the alternative, actually being bad (as opposed to sometimes not good). To the show’s credit, there’s no hint of Abbie/Ichabod shipping, and it’s not (yet; again, yet) overreaching on its almost-anything-goes premise.10 I can fault the show runners for not having the clearest vision of where things are going – both overall and with the individual characters and plot elements – but thinking back, Fringe probably had some of the same problems. And I watched all of that show.11
In the end, I suppose the fact that I’m discussing its missed steps (not missteps) in such depth, online or over board games, is a clear sign that I’m paying attention. And still watching.
… for now.
- I say this as a very avid Hulu-ist: go outside, read a book, none of us need to watch TV. PSA over, back to the site about TV. ↵
- Unless you are your parents. No, not you, Dad, don’t worry. ↵
- Cap’n Irving has grown on me like a really, really enjoyable fungus. ↵
- That’s by standard network show standards. No Emmy’s here, at least not yet. ↵
- As outlined at some length and with great wit in my recaps. ↵
- Although there have been a handful of lines or line-readings that… just… why? ↵
- Because this police department is the best funded and staffed department in the frigging world… ↵
- Part of this is the actor fitting into the role, but the writing and the directing are doing Nick Gonzalez no favors. ↵
- A criminally underused John Cho ↵
- As the crew at Extra Hot Great has pointed out, Sleepy Hollow can literally get away with saying ‘a wizard did it’ and it’s not contradictory to its world. As I would point out, the world is sometimes so undefined that a dinosaur wizard wouldn’t be horribly contradictory. ↵
- Important note: Sleepy Hollow is not rising to the level of the admittedly flawed first season of Fringe. ↵