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Moments into Sleepy Hollow, when we’d already seen the battle with Ichabod Crane where he decapitates a mighty horseman and is transported to the 21st century, I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to be good.” Things were running too fast, the show was bouncing around like excited atoms, and I wasn’t hopeful that Sleepy Hollow could develop anything in this pilot that wouldn’t make me think that the opening was too rushed.

Then, by the end of the show, I was proven wrong. Part Elementary (because of Ichabod’s [Tom Mison] accent and his smarts and the female heroine and the deduction), part Grimm (because of the soon-to-be battles with demons and the buddy cop elements and the magic (?) and the ancient relic that must be protected), Sleepy Hollow struck something inside me that got me kind of excited. Yes, for a show that seemed to lack everything that makes me love Washington Irving’s version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, I was still stoked about meeting this new Ichabod (and Mison has the rugged good looks to keep even myself a bit attracted to the man) and the Headless Horseman who carries a magical fired ax and a machine gun.

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If the opening is a bit rushed, it’s also fairly violent for a FOX show. There’s a beheading, swordplay, and then a few more beheadings during a dark and stormy night, all happening very quickly within the span of 250 years. Sleepy Hollow seems to want to skip over most of Crane’s time in the past, probably because the show will revisit that in flashbacks along the way, such as when Crane conjures up a memory of George Washington giving him direct orders. It’s fast-paced for this pilot, but anything less would mean missing out on meeting Abbie (Nicole Beharie), Crane’s aide for the 21st century and helpful pursuer of the guilty.

Once Crane gets transported to the present (to him the future), the usual comic games occur – Crane plays with power windows, looks at George Washington’s mug on the dollar bill in astonishment, and remarks about Starbucks’ views on manifest destiny. Passing two in a block’s radius, he asks, “Is it a law?” But these attempts at wit are at least more clever and creative than they could have been – when I first heard Sleepy Hollow would find Crane jumping to the future, I imagined a bunch of clothing puns would be dropped, but not so.

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Mison is the reason why these jokes work; he’s already a likable character, even without meeting him for very long. He’s actually a mysterious person, and there’s little development done in this pilot except to show that he agrees slavery is bad, he was a spy and a traitor, and he’s pretty damn smart. But still, Crane sticks out as a character that the audience can really get behind, and that means the creators have done their job to get folks to come back to Sleepy Hollow.

The show spends a lot less time with other characters, but Abbie does get some backstory, especially because she’s been involved in the supernatural before. She saw a copse of four white trees tended to by a demon figure, and she realized then that something bad was coming. As Crane’s girl remarks in a dream sequence, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will soon awaken, and the Headless Horseman cannot find his skull.

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This is all a bit contrived, and it’s thrown at us about as carefully as you might slosh shit from a bucket. It’s obvious Sleepy Hollow wanted to set up the long-running conceit about fighting baddies because the Headless Horseman just ain’t going to be a character we can watch and run from every single episode (Crane even reads from a Bible passage that refers to he and Abbie as protectors for seven years. Ambitious, perhaps – can we expect seven seasons?). Even if it’s done clumsily, at least the audience now realizes that there’s more going on in Sleepy Hollow than some headless guy riding a pale horse.

Sleepy Hollow captures the atmospheric fog and autumnal landscape that I remember from Irving’s original, although it’s often odd to see this kind of sleepy setting intermixed with busy freeways. Still, if Sleepy Hollow can retain much of what makes this pilot so compelling in future episodes, it should be a pretty successful show with a strong fan base, much the way Grimm, Buffy, and Supernatural blossomed.

Thoughts

They sure do love fish eye lenses in this opening episode, don’t they?

– I wish we had gotten to see more of Abbie’s partner Corbin (Clancy Brown). It seems like he’s a big part of why Abbie’s a cop, but he’s killed off so quickly that it stops any development there. I had the same feelings when Under the Dome killed Jeff Fahey’s character Duke.

– I see Orlando Jones has finally landed something useful. I guess his stint in Crash Course didn’t bring in the bacon.

– I hope John Cho gets more screentime, but based on his treachery in this episode, that’s debatable.

– Who’s tuning in for the rest of the season?

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