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TV Review – Sleepy Hollow

sleepyWhen I was a kid, I won a costume contest by wearing one of my dad’s old army coats with the collar buttoned over my head and telling people I was the headless horseman. I used to plan weeks in advance to make sure that when the Legend of Sleepy Hollow came on TV, I was watching it. By the time Johnny Depp made Ichabod Crane a nerdy super-sleuth, I had been a headless horseman fan for two decades. And so when FOX started airing promos for Sleepy Hollow, I knew I was in.

The new-and-arguably-improved Sleepy Hollow starts with a few scraps of Washington Irving’s chilling-but-kick-ass tale, then discards the rest and does its own thing entirely. Ichabod Crane is not a dork who is trying to woo the town bully’s girl. He’s a super spy from the Revolutionary War who wakes up in 2013 because the horseman rises from the dead. Oh, and Crane is the one who chopped off the horseman’s head the first time.

The story continues to get more distance from the original tale as the show progresses. Katrina is in there as a good witch and Crane’s wife (who he married in the 1700’s), but there’s no Brom Bones. The horseman does not throw his pumpkin skull, because he prefers to wield a police-issue pump shotgun. And there are lots and lots of monsters.

At this point, if you’re not excited about watching Sleepy Hollow, you can stop reading. The headless horseman fights super-spy Ichabod Crane in the future with shotguns and there are demons? How could you miss that? But what you are probably expecting is something a little less retarded than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a little more formulaic than Grimm.

OK, yes, you would mostly be right. In the third episode, a 250-year-old American spy battles the sandman with the help of a used car salesman. Sleepy Hollow demands that you suspend an awful lot of disbelief. However, if you can just relax and go with it, this show is a lot smarter than it has any right to be.

For instance, the appearance of the headless horseman is more than just a story dreamed up to scare a goofy bastard who doesn’t know when to quit courting the local hottie. In Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman heralds the end of the days, the final judgment, the apocalypse. And if Ichabod Crane can’t stop him, it’s all over but the gnashing of teeth.

Happily, Crane has help, in the form of a scrappy little deputy who sees the horseman behead her boss. She believes Ichabod’s ludicrous tale of sleeping in a cave for 250 years, and helps him on his quest to save the world. In the process, they meet up with some seriously creepy opponents.

And this is where I start to get a little worried. So far, every week has been a rogue’s gallery of bad guys. Some horrific monster appears and murders a few people, then Crane and his sidekick hunt it down and stop it from happening again. We’re only three episodes in at this point, but I’m frankly a little bit concerned that Sleepy Hollow is going to turn into a bad-guy-of-the-week formula show with witty quips about the state of modern society and gallons of incredulity.

The first episode of Sleepy Hollow was the best so far. It was exciting and dark and spooky, and featured that thing where the guy in the mirror moves all jerky and then the mirror breaks. Man, that’s creepy good times. But since then, the bad guys are getting less impressive. I want to know where the headless horsemen went, and I want to know why he’s sending second-stringers. I want more development with the backstory and conspiracy theories and local witch covens, and less ‘OMG monster.’

I do have to say, however, that I am really getting a kick out of the way the writers are using Ichabod Crane’s time displacement to take sideways jabs at modern American society. Like, when they buy donuts, and he sees the receipt, he is outraged that they have paid a 10% tariff on baked goods, and wants to know why people are not revolting in the streets. It’s kind of a snide mirror held up to modern society to point out that the founding fathers would be disappointed. This is entertaining, and while it is probably meant as a sort of social commentary, it is also an inadvertent comment on the naivete that leads zealots to war in the first place.

I’m a dedicated headless horseman fan, and have been for about 35 years. I’m going to watch Sleepy Hollow – but as soon as it begins to disappoint me, I am going to quit watching and disable the DVR setting, then poop in a sandwich bag and mail it FOX for screwing up one of my childhood memories. For now, at least, I am still pretty thrilled to enjoy the shenanigans of increasingly improbably villains and heroes, the rather impressive acting from the main characters, and the behind-the-scenes machinations of evil Harold (of Harold & Kumar, who is not playing Harold, but who will forever be Harold in my head, even if he is also Sulu). You can probably get caught up on the show with Hulu or something, and if not, it’s not like you’ve missed a whole lot. Sleepy Hollow is a fun ride so far, but it’s also not going to be taking up the slack for Breaking Bad.

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