I can’t imagine how terrifyingly difficult it is to write a pilot for a series. You have to introduce characters with enough detail to begin to create realistic motivations, personalities and histories; you have to provide a clear setting (in the case of supernatural/sci fi endeavors this includes rules like the existence of witchcraft or certain technology); and begin to tell a story that can be wrapped up in some way each week, but can continue for multiple seasons to come (procedurals have it so much easier). The pilot has to be full enough to get viewers invested, but not so full that it feels rushed or bogged down …and all of this within the span of an hour!!
In my opinion, Sleep Hollow had a very promising foray into the shark tank that is primetime TV. IMDB boards seems to suggest that there is a love it or hate it attitude already forming. Like with anything that comes from literary source material, there are a lot of people that hate it because it is not Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” There is also an understandable tendency for comparison to Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” with (who else?) Johnny Depp. The fact is, it is its own new take on the legend and it doesn’t really draw a lot more than names and small details from the literature. Is that a bad thing? Not really. (If you haven’t seen it, or want to see it again, it is available online on FOX’s website.)
(SPOILERS AHEAD) If you’ve seen the trailers you know a lot of what the pilot entails (not to say that it’s not worth watching for the continuity and the very important small details). The series opens in the Hudson Valley in 1781. Ichabod Crane, a British turncoat working under George Washington, is given orders to kill a mercenary who can be identified by an bow (as in arrow) on his hand. Later in the episode we find that it was not only to win the fight for independence but for the fate of the world (a little weighty but it is what it is). Crane shoots then decapitates his opponent, but not before receiving a blow from an axe. Both fall. Crane, in and out of consciousness, is taken to triage where we see a priest and Crane’s wife, Katrina. He then wakes up in a cave in 2013 surrounded by jars of snakes, frogs, etc. (Note: For ease of reading, I’ve recapped much of 1781 in one go. The pilot itself uses flashbacks throughout the episode). Meanwhile we meet Abbie Mills and her partner Sheriff Corbin. We learn Abbie plans to go to Quantico. They pair are called to stables to see what’s spooking the horses (tough town, right?). The Horseman is waiting and Sheriff Corbin loses his head…literally of course. Backup is called for and, on the way, they find Crane who is arrested as the murderer. Abbie knows Crane didn’t do it because, well, he has a head and she insists on using him to find out more but is refused by Captain Frank Irving. She does against orders and takes Crane back to the cave he woke up in. They find a Bible with the Book of Revelation marked. It tells of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and suggests that who they face is Death. Later the Horseman kills a priest, one that Crane knew in 1781 and seemingly also has powers. After that, Crane is taken to a mental institution where Abbie tells him that she and her sister had an unexplained experience in the woods when they were in high school. They saw a demon figure and four white trees, which appeared out of nowhere, blacked out and were found by the road. After leaving Crane, Abbie, who knows Corbin was up to something, searches his files and finds details on disappearances, occult practices and two fighting covens–one evil, one good. Meanwhile Crane has a vision of his dead wife, who was burned for witchcraft shortly after he died (or didn’t die, but slept for 200+ years). She says her body is not buried at the cemetery, but that it is where the Horseman’s head is buried. Crane and the Horseman’s blood were intertwined so she had to put a spell on him too. They entombed the Horseman in a watery grave, but the evil that trapped her in her wooded purgatory also controls the horseman and woke him and Crane, both. In the end, Crane and Abbie dig up the Horseman’s head. The Horseman himself appears and tries to reclaim his, uh, property. Abbie’s friend and coworker Andy, who’s allegiances seem to fall with the Horseman, tries to stop Abbie from sparring with the Horseman. Unfortunately for our bad guy, he can’t stand the sunlight and as the sun rises he runs off, leaving Crane and Abbie unharmed. The duo finally get the go-ahead to continue their search and Abbie decides to stay in Sleepy Hollow. But when they go to interrogate Andy, he is found dead. Those darn demons.
Whew! Quite a bit happens. Overall I was impressed. The pilot was entertaining and, with the help of the Bible verses, they’ve set themselves up for seven years of evil-fighting fun, assuming of course people jump on the supernatural bandwagon. If last night’s ratings say anything, Sleepy Hollow, could be the heavy-hitter this fall. We will get a better idea of its chances next week when episode two ratings come out, but I still have high hopes. Fingers crossed it won’t be too procedural and fall into the monster-of-the-week trope. The acting, music, pacing, dialogue are all good, but perhaps the most impressive part of the show is the cinematography. At one point the camera falls with one of the Horseman’s victims. That’s not a camera angle choice you would find in a lot of TV. But it was visually interesting and showed me that the people working on this show really care about the art of storytelling. What we want is a story that is interesting both intellectually and visually, I think Sleepy Hollow delivers. Let’s see if they can keep up the momentum or if they’ll tumble off their high horses.
What were your thoughts? Will you give it another go next week? What were your thoughts on the promo at the end?