Fans of gothic TV horror have been undergoing a bit of a Golden Age this season. The Vampire Diaries has spun off a sequel, The Originals; American Horror Story: Coven is constantly finding new ways to creep us out; Dracula is attempting a comeback in the form of the Jonathan Rhys Meyers drama; Grimm continues to deliver Germanic-flavored were-beast crime drama; and The Following is prepping a second season of adventures for its Poe-worshipping cult of serial killers.
But one of the breakout hits of this season has been Sleepy Hollow, the new series on Fox inspired by Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and its many adaptations. Comparisons to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer are to be expected, as the show follows a small group as they deal with the demonic goings-on in their hometown, which is gearing up for an apocalypse. But while comparisons in quality would be premature (and highly debatable), the show is actually highly entertaining, sufficiently creepy and intermittently funny enough to make room for in your TV-watching schedule. With the first season approaching the midway point, and Season 2 greenlit, now’s as good a time as any to check it out. Here are ten reasons why you should.
1. This is Not Your Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow
One would think that any TV incarnation of the Washington Irving tale would take plenty of cues from its most prominent and successful incarnation, arguably Tim Burton’s high-profile 1999 feature film. And while Burton was once a geek’s favorite auteur (before his takes on Mars Attacks, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes failed to impress), the exaggerated, artificial worlds he presents in his films have grown rather tiresome. Luckily, the show’s modern, largely realistic take leaves little room for Burton-style excess.
Make no mistake, the show is occasionally very funny, but it mostly plays things deathly serious. With elements of police procedural, historical drama and modern cinematic horror (more Insidious, less Dark Shadows), the show is dark enough that you welcome the occasional laugh, but you never get the feeling that a crazy-haired puppet master is manipulating the action from above. So if those memories of Burton overkill have been keeping you away, rest assured that this show is 99.9% quirk-free, although it occasionally indulges in Whedonesque whimsy. (Not a bad thing.)
2. Crane, Ichabod Crane
Ichabod Crane may be one of the most interesting characters on television, an intellectual who is also a man of action, as well as a romantic lead. As a man from the 1700s brought back in the present day, Crane is constantly bewildered by modern conveniences such as computers, bottled water and acronyms, but he’s still a bit of a bad-ass, having swordfights with Death and charging headfirst into danger. Plus, he somehow also gets all of the funniest lines.
Primarily known for his stage work before now – assuming you kept track of people who did things on the stage – Tom Mison has brought the role of Crane to wondrous life. He had me laughing out loud at his portrayal of a refined British gentleman trying a Red Bull for the first time, or attempting to turn off an accidentally activated adult video chat, or bringing an On*Star operator to tears with a tale of love lost. I keep wanting to compare him to other characters I have seen and enjoyed on TV, and I keep coming up short. He’s positively delightful.
3. Buddy Cops Without Benefits
The co-lead in Sleepy Hollow is Lt. Abbie Mills, played by Nicole Beharie, and I will admit that I was skeptical at first – after all, young, beautiful law-enforcement professionals of the female persuasion may be fun to watch, but they don’t always check off a win in the “believability” category. However, aside from one episode where she and Crane stripped down to their skivvies to fight a Native American nightmare spirit, the show seems less interested in using Beharie as eye candy and more interested in making her out to be a tough cop who won’t take guff from anyone or anything, not even a 250-year old college professor.
And since Crane also has a bewitching witch wife trapped in a limbo dimension whom he talks to occasionally and pines for regularly, the show doesn’t even seem interested in forcing any romantic chemistry between its two leads, thereby taking the ticking clock out of their relationship. The easy, joking camaraderie between the two, bound by the knowledge that they are the two people chiefly responsible for preventing the apocalypse, is fun to watch, as they are pretty much the definition of an odd couple.
4. The Biggest of Big Bads
Gifted humans battling the paranormal to save humanity is not a new TV concept by any means. Buffy did it the best, Angel did it almost as good (possibly better), and Supernatural can’t seem to stop doing it. But only Sam and Dean from Supernatural ever had the balls to take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Of course, they also fought angels, God and the Devil, so maybe to them the Horsemen were small potatoes, but as far as Big Bads go, the Four Horsemen are up there.
Fans of Supernatural may find the idea of a tortured pair of haunted and/or resurrected demon hunters familiar, but while Sam and Dean are somewhat used to looming apocalypses by now, Ichabod and Abbie have their hands full with just the one Horseman, Death. It looks like Death may be the focus of the entire season at this point, leaving three Horsemen to pick up the reins in future seasons. Ichabod and Abbie have already had a brush with Pestilence, and the other two are prancing around somewhere, so hopefully the confirmation of a second season means three more years of equine-based evil.
?5. Let the Power of Clancy Brown Compel You!
From the moment I found out Clancy Brown was in the pilot of Sleepy Hollow, I was all in. The Kurgan vs. the Horseman? Boo-yah! Then Clancy Brown got his head cut off, like, ten minutes in. Sorry for the spoiler, but I didn’t want to sell you all a bill of goods. Luckily, this spoiler has a happy ending! Even though Clancy Brown’s character is no longer alive, his spirit lives on through the frequent references to the research he did while he was alive, a brief cameo, and the fact that the main characters have moved into his house.
What’s more, the show has provided a regular stream of entertaining guest stars to ease the pain, and to complement the talented cast. John Cho (Star Trek: Into Darkness) has a recurring role as a cop, John Noble (Fringe) turns up in one episode as a Sin Eater and James Frain (Grimm, The Cape) appears as a Freemason. Yes! The show has Freemasons! Didn’t I tell you it was awesome?
?6. The Rediscovery of Orlando Jones
?After being introduced to him in comedies like Office Space and The Replacements, I honestly didn’t think Orlando Jones could believably play a serious character. I’m not even sure I wanted him to. And yet I’ll be darned if he isn’t believable (and a little awesome) as the new Chief of Police in Sleepy Hollow – yes, the one who replaces Clancy Brown.
It helps that his character, Captain Frank Irving, is not just a gratuitous hard-ass, but a skilled investigator in his own right who allows his team the freedom they need to do their job, whether it’s following up on metaphysical leads or smashing down a precinct wall in order to annex the building next door. He also has a permissive attitude towards murder-related office jokes. And when he’s out in the field? The guy leads a SWAT team like nobody’s business, and seems to be the only person to have gone up against the Horseman solo and lived. Best replacement ever?
?7. Le Freak, C’est Weak
The “Freak of the Week” is part of a rich tradition in genre TV, going back decades. But while Buffy managed to elevate the trope by using its weekly freaks as metaphors for growing up, for the most part it’s used as a crutch, to give characters new and (debatably) varied challenges to face each week. (For example, Smallville, which managed to turn a show set in the rich, varied universe of DC Comics into an overhyped, trend-driven Goosebumps knockoff.)
After encounters with a burned witch, a dream spirit and a plague-infected boy from Croatoa early on, I was worried that Sleepy Hollow was going to take the easy way out and present the audience with a new menace. But it quickly shifted tacks and instead focused on developing the story of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, which has already gone in a pretty unexpected direction.
8. A Horseman by Any Other Name…
In the original tale, it is implied that the Headless Horseman may not have been supernatural at all, an idea which most adaptations have thankfully ignored. Now, in Sleepy Hollow, he has graduated to being one of the four fabled Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And while being Death incarnate doesn’t seem to give him more powers, he has definitely taken his name to heart, cutting a swath through the Sleepy Hollow police department, as well as other local civic organizations. With a machine gun.
That’s right, in addition to his trademark axe, which cauterizes wounds instantly for mostly safe-for-TV beheadings, the Horseman frequently carries out his assaults with an assault rifle. Hey, when your head’s been cut off, you learn to adapt, and I think the avatar of Death would adjust to modern times by finding the most efficient way of delivering death available. And while a gun breaks with tradition, I have to say the anachronism looks pretty awesome. I’m actually kinda disappointed that the Horseman chose an actual horse to ride, instead of a motorcycle, like he did in that episode of The Real Ghostbusters. Season Two!
9. Nobody’s Perfect
It goes without saying that flawed characters are more interesting than characters with no discernible defects. Luckily, the show has given both main characters plenty to atone for. Abbie regrets lying about the demon she and her sister saw in the woods that one time, leaving her free to pursue a life of street crime and, later, law enforcement, while her sister ended up in a mental institution. And Ichabod regrets the things he did while a member of the British army, including torturing suspects under orders from a superior officer who turned out to be a demon. That’s right, Ichabod Crane is the Sayid in this story.
Ichabod has since done plenty to redeem himself, including taking down the Horseman for a couple of centuries, and Abbie is in the process of reconciling with her sister. But we’re already starting to learn more about Ichabod’s history with the Horseman, and he doesn’t exactly come off looking squeaky clean. But the best part about the past coming back to haunt these two is that we get to watch them get spooked. I’m dying to see what’s in Orlando Jones’ closet. Probably mummies.
10. It’s Educational!
Stop laughing: I mean it! Granted, every single thing the show tells us about the Revolutionary War is tied to an utterly fabricated event or motivation, like delivering a book of magic spells or staving off a demonic incursion, but you’re still learning about the event, about the people involved, about what life was like during the late 1700s. For instance, I was not aware that the citizens of Roanoake colony spoke a completely foreign version of English that nobody would be able to understand today.
Ichabod’s anecdotes and clarifications alone would be enough to give any high schooler a reason to pay more attention in their history class, in case it becomes of value in future episodes. And while mythology and Biblical passages are always good to know, there’s something to be said for knowing a little bit more about your own country’s history. What did you learn about history from the last episode of Dracula, or Grimm? That Dracula invented wireless electricity? Good luck patenting that one, Drac.
Previously by Jay Barish