Monday, September 16, 2013

Sleepy Hollow Premiere Review: "Pilot" - Headless But not Brainless

The Headless Horseman has a shotgun and an AR-15! in "Sleepy Hollow"

Let’s get the obviously question out of the way first.  Should you watch the first episode of Sleepy Hollow?  Abso-fricking-lutely.  This is, by far, the flat-out craziest television pilot I’ve ever seen.  There’s tons of action, tons of completely bonkers exposition, and a headless horseman wielding a shotgun and an AR-15.  I repeat: there’s a headless horseman wielding a shotgun and an AR-15.  If that doesn’t have you at least a little intrigued, I don’t know that I can help you.

One thing I like to do with genre shows is to boil them down to one or two sentence elevator pitches in order to figure out how the hell they got on TV in the first place.  The best genre pitch is probably Joss Whedon’s for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “A girl walks into a dark alley, only she doesn’t die and she doesn’t need to be saved because she kicks the crap out of the villain.”  So here’s my elevator pitch for Sleepy Hollow:  Ichabod Crane is a rebel soldier tasked by General George Washington with killing a mysterious British horseman.  He succeeds, dying in the process, only to be revived in 2013 when the horseman is raised to ride again. 

Yes, it sounds insane, but throughout the pilot it actually makes a crazy bit of sense.  It helps that the pilot is scripted by Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci who have had success in the past with genre television on Fringe.  Judging by the previews, Sleepy Hollow is going to have some of the same Monster-of-the-Week format as Fringe’s first couple of seasons while sprinkling in mythology along the way.  And boy is there ever some mythology.  We’ve got American Revolution conspiracies, witches, demons, the Book of Revelation, and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.  Unsurprisingly, there are no extraneous people.  Every major character introduced in the pilot seems to have a connection in some way to the mythology.  It’ll be most interesting to see how they balance the standalone elements with the mythology going forward, but I imagine the bigger story will be doled out in much smaller bursts than we got tonight. 

Probably the one drawback of the pilot is that the characters aren’t particularly well developed.  We spend the vast majority of the time with Crane and Abbie, a Sleepy Hollow detective with a past that’s connected to the Headless Horseman (or at least the demon who raised him).  Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie (both newcomers to me) have really good chemistry and manage to make lines like “This is crazy,” “which makes it no less real,” sound halfway decent.  But outside of those two, the rest of the cast is more or less caricatures at this point including, most notably, Orlando Jones as the hardass boss.

Now, look, I’ve been extremely positive about this show but the truth is that this could all go downhill extremely fast.  I see hints of Buffy and Fringe but there are a whole host of terrible genre shows that it could become instead.  Whether Sleepy Hollow is good crazy or bad crazy has yet to be determined, but for now, at least, I’m on board.  Besides, in case you forgot.  THERE’S A SHOTGUN AND MACHINE GUN-WIELDING HEADLESS HORSEMAN.

A couple of spare thoughts –

Without getting into any spoilers, I was legitimately surprised by every death in the pilot.  I don’t know if they're “forever deaths,” or if the characters will somehow come back (I imagine not at this point), but the writers did a fantastic job of keeping me on my toes.

The “fish out of water” bits of humor are thankfully kept to a minimum (digression on the ubiquity of Starbucks aside).  I really hope they keep it that way because that sort of thing could get old quickly.

There’s a fantastic POV beheading shot that might be my favorite camera shot (non-Breaking Bad edition) of the year.

“I have questions, several thousand questions.  But I will save you the indignity of getting answers by strapping you to a chair.”

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV

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