Ah, Fall. The time of year when the pumpkins are ripe, the leaves fall and major networks trot out a fresh crop of tv shows. While I’d say there’ve been some disappointments (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and outright garbage (Dads) in the mix, the most pleasant surprise so far has been Fox’s decision to gamble on a handful of oddball genre shows in the form of Almost Human, Brooklyn-Nine Nine and Sleepy Hollow. Could this be the first of a new wave of shows to compete with the kind of unique programming usually reserved for Netflix or, to a lesser extent, AMC? Since all three of these shows are high-concept cop shows, we figured the best way to discuss them would be if Max Robinson teamed up with a different Deadshirt writer on each show in a three-part article we’re calling Partner Up.
Max: Fox’s Sleepy Hollow has everything: Conspiracy theories. Witches. Explosions. A time traveler who doesn’t understand the concept of bottled water. To get to the bottom of it, I need Deadshirt writer and artiste in residence Jen Overstreet to undergo a 1000-word crucible with me.
Jen: If a show were made by randomly selecting posts from my Tumblr feed and connecting them through free association, it would be Sleepy Hollow. You’ve got a hipstery waif male lead, more main characters of color than I’ve ever seen on screen together in a mainstream TV show, drama punctuated by gifsettable banter and some kind of Buffy-Supernatural mash of spooky occult threats making up the main plot.
Max: The plot of Sleepy Hollow is so overly complex that it’s kind of hard to explain but basically all you need to know is that Ichabod Crane (the freakishly tall Tom Mison) is a secret agent during the American Revolution who dies then comes back in the modern day to help small town police lieutenant Abby Mills (Nicole Beharie) stop a bunch of demons from bringing about the end of the world. Their primary antagonist is literally the Headless Horseman.
Jen: This is a cop show in only the loosest definition of the phrase. It is a show, in which the police force supplies several of the main characters, and gives them access to heavy weaponry. Police procedure, the law, and sleuthing are mostly arbitrary roadblocks and plot filler because in the end every villain is made of magic.
Max: I think what I love about Sleepy Hollow is that it embraces how really dumb the central premise of the show is. It just GOES for it, you know? Sure, George Washington was leading a secret war against demons! Why not? The Boston Tea Party was all a front so the colonial army could steal a magic book from Hessian soldiers! Totally reasonable. Ichabod Crane has a photographic memory and speaks every language and knows all about the supernatural! That’s really the way to do a show like this, no half-measures.
Jen: On the other hand I long for more emphasis on the modern elements of the show. Abby Mills and her modern world are ostensibly one half of the show, but aside from occasional moments in which Ichabod interacts with technology for laughs, the modern setting doesn’t play a major role in the plot. Visually speaking, the historical small-town set is so antiquated that historical memory, occult otherworld, and modern day scenes become barely distinguishable – underscored by the fact that Ichabod never changes out of the single set of clothes he time-traveled with.
Personally, I find Sleepy Hollow strongest in the gaps between plot elements, the moments in which it starts to explore the characters of Abby and her modern-day cohorts. Watching them digest and react to the exposition – whether questioning their reality, cracking jokes, or having interpersonal issues that, for just a moment, entirely trump experiencing a biblical crisis – grounds the otherworldly elements of the show.
Max: The modern setting definitely takes a backseat to the flashback stuff, but one thing I really dig is how, even though it’s supposed to be this creepy small town, the cast is super diverse. That’s the big thing that really sells the modern setting for me, it’s totally reflective of current day demographics. Ichabod’s allies are predominantly African-American, and John Cho’s Korean-American Andy Brooks is connected to a two-hundred-year-old witch cult.
That said, you also get things like Abby’s relationship with her cop ex-boyfriend which they’ve just totally done nothing with. I kinda suspect the contemporary elements suffer because of all the backstory they have to unravel.
Jen: Yeah, I felt similarly about Ichabod’s wife Katrina, but on the latest episode she got a little development, so my fingers are crossed for Abby’s ex. We’re eight episodes in and it still feels like they’re working double-time to introducing the world order, so it’s a good thing they’re all set up for a second season. I’m interested to see if adding twists and turns every episode is their thing, or if they’ll finish laying the groundwork soon and get down to some solid character development.
Max: I will say I think the chemistry between Mison and Beharie is really strong and feels super natural (please kill me for this accidental pun). It’s very fun watching Abby bust Ichabod’s beans after he delivers an over the top, drawn out exposition.
Jen: Whenever they get to banter it’s just so cute. I want to watch a sitcom in which Abby teaches Ichabod how to be a 21st Century Dude.
Max: I think a large part of Sleepy Hollow’s success comes from it being something of a throwback. It has an overarching, season-long plot, but the “monster of the week” bits and the intentional goofiness remind me of Kolchak: The Night Stalker or some of the better episodes of The X-Files. The car radio playing “Witchcraft” when that fire-witch kills that guy in the second episode is the perfect example of what I mean.
Jen: Sleepy Hollow is a cake; all the ingredients are great so any way you combine them they’re going to make something tasty, but when they get the mixture just right it’s delicious.