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Fox's 'Sleepy Hollow' is Hollow and Headless

An Nicholson An Nicholson
September 22nd, 2013 5:50pm EDT

Sleepy Hollow

'Sleepy Hollow' exemplifies how poor direction and bad pacing could destroy a potentially strong show. Out of all the Fall premieres, I most looked forward to 'Sleepy Hollow' because I love hot British men,  the original Washington Irving mystery,  and, anything fantasy/sci fi oriented. Despite amazing production values, beautiful cinematography, a charismatic lead, and Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci's support, the pilot forces two hours of dialogue, emotion and story line into one brisk hour, making it feel rushed.

'Sleepy Hollow''s pilot follows revolutionary war hero Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) catapulted into the 21st century to stop his arch-nemesis, the headless horseman, from unleashing mass destruction in the modern day. He connects with a local cop, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), to prevent the horseman's bloody terror reign. Basically, 'Sleepy Hollow' is NBC's 'Grimm' meets SyFy's 'Haven,' where a small town cop with a mysterious past connects with an outsider with a mysterious past and together, the two solve crimes. Unfortunately, despite the slightly hackneyed premise, what kills the show isn't the acting or the writing but the pacing.

At its worst, the pilot reminds me of my least favorite pilots last season, NBC's now canceled grief therapy comedy, 'Go On,' and CBS' troubled 'Elementary' pilot. 'Go On' (also featuring John Cho) focused more on humor and less on the funereal subject matter, fearing characters realistically dealing with pain wouldn't appear entertaining. Likewise, 'Elementary''s pilot pushed the pacing and Watson-Holmes relationship to avoid losing viewer interest. However, this doesn't work in 'Sleepy Hollow''s favor where its grounding in an American gothic fairy tale should appear its strength, not its weakness. Instead, the characters shift from event to event without reacting or slowing down to allow us to react. Ichabod's pushed into the modern era, but he adjusts. He discovers his wife's death, no problem. He watches his enemy hack local cops up, he deals. Likewise, despite watching the horseman successively murder her father figure and best friend, before discovering both men alternated between stalking her and hiding the truth; but, we NEVER see Abbie react. I mean, seriously, if the job and your co-workers are the only items who kept you SANE die horrifically, shouldn't you be affected SOMEWHAT?! 'Sleepy Hollow's one big action flick with visual gothic overtones, with no understanding of the gothic genre.

In fact, the pilot needed two hours to do justice to the relationships. We needed more time watching the horseman act like a big bad back in the day and more time learning about Ichabod with his family and colleagues. Likewise, I needed more time watching Abbie with her cop family and needed more of a reaction from her when they're ripped away. Hell, we needed more time witnessing Ichabod adjust to his new time period and seeing the police captain accept his time shifting. Instead, each of these major events receives maybe five minutes before moving on. In between, we watch the horseman hack indiscriminately without explanation.

It takes an incredibly talented director to remove his cast's talent. Why cast comedic actors, Orlando Jones and John Cho, if all we get is one-dimensional, emotionally dead characters? Hell, why cast Beharie (who was the first unanimous recipient of the Robin Williams Scholarship at Juliard), and not use her capabilities? Throughout the pilot, she came across as the one-dimensional pretty girl. Whenever tangible facial emotions almost surfaced, they quickly disappeared. For an hour, I watched her character glide glibly between scenes without acknowledging the events. Wiseman put more emphasis on the humorous zingers, than the dramatic, gothic pacing.

While the directing could've added pauses to slow down the dialogue, the script remains equally at fault. The pilot's supporting cast were wasted because the script didn't explain their necessity. What is the reason for Andy Dunn, John Cho's character? Why did his Abbie obsession come out of left field? Why cast Patrick Gorman as the creepy priest and not use him? While the headless gunman is cool, why can he adjust to modern day technology (and navigate contemporary streets) so easily? 

Let's be honest, the best thing for 'Sleepy Hollow', Len Wiseman, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, is probably the worst thing. Orci and Kurtzman might've produced some awesome films, but they also wrote some stinkers i.e. Transformers, Legend of Zorro, Cowboys and Aliens, as well as the Hercules/Xena scripts. Likewise, Len Wiseman is known primarily for penning, producing and directing the Underworld series. Box office smashes, sure. But, they're not exactly Shakespeare. The best we can do is not allow Wiseman to direct another episode ever.

On the bright side, cinematically, the pilot proved stunning. And, visually, the final five minutes were awesome. I literally orgasmed shouting 'Yes! This is how you should do it!' While I'm always hesitant to discuss a lead character's race/gender, I love Nicole Beharie's casting. Unfortunately, she provides the same reading I might receive from Piper Perabo (and that isn't a good thing). Surprisingly, I loved Tom Mison as Ichabod. I had absolutely no expectations going on, but he knocked Ichabod's contemporary Renaissance man out of the park. He's so charming and adorable that I literally threw my undies at the screen.

Overall, 'Sleepy Hollow''s pilot gets a B+. I'll admit I obsessed over the Sleepy Hollow myth in graduate school, re-read the original story, re-watched the Depp film, loved the Disney classic, and traveled to the Tarrytown area with friends for a Halloween weekend.  I went in expecting high marks from my favorite actors, producers, and writers, but left disenheartened. While I enjoy Behari and Mison's on-screen buddy chemistry, I wish the script hadn't forced it in the pilot and gave them more time to adjust to each other. I loved Behari's interactaction with Clancy Brown's Sherriff Corbin and wanted to see more. Honestly, if you discover your father figure both stalked you and hid data from you, wouldn't you show more emotion? And, if you discover your best friend is obsessed with you and possibly caused Armaggeddon because of it, wouldn't you implode a little? There are terrible things going on around Abbie. Instead, she views four trees as scarier than the beheading of her closest friends. Plus, while I loved Mison's smoothness as Ichabod, I wanted more desperation. He pushes Abbie to stay because they're the same. But, come on, she's the ONLY person he knows that believes him and links him to his past. If she leaves, he's alone.

'Sleepy Hollow' could've been better but the direction's uneven pacing made both the acting and writing seem hollow and headless. Catch it on FOX on Monday nights.

Photo Credits: Fox