TV review: Unsolved murder cases, horned demons and missed tricks in Sleepy Hollow
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 09 October 2013
Welcome to the little town of Sleepy Hollow, population: 440,000. Forecast: raining anachronisms. This new US-made fantasy series stars Nicole Beharie as Detective Abbie Mills.
Mills is about to leave town for an FBI training course at Quantico when the supposedly sleepy Sleepy Hollow starts waking up. Her partner, Sheriff Corbin, is murdered by a headless horseman in an 18th-century Redcoat uniform, and a man claiming to be a soldier from the same time period, recently risen from the grave, is arrested walking the streets. He calls himself Ichabod Crane.
That name and the figure of the headless horseman are just about all that survives from Washington Irving's 1820 short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Plot-wise, Universal Channel's Sleepy Hollow is closer to Tim Burton's 1999 feature film, only minus the Burtonesque feel for gothic gloom that was that film's main selling point.
The title is really only an excuse for an overcooked occult plot that somehow encompasses unsolved murder cases, competing covens of good and evil witches, a horned demon and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – and that's just in episode one. Some sample fantasy TV series mumbo-jumbo: "When you wounded the horseman your bloodlines merged, you became linked, bounded together by blood." Well that explains everything, then.
Co-opting folklore themes into a modern setting has worked well in the past, but Sleepy Hollow lacks Buffy the Vampire Slayer's way with a pop culture reference, or a heroine as spunky as Sarah Michelle Gellar. Beharie is pretty unremarkable and she heads up an unremarkable cast, whose high-point is a role for John Cho (better known as Harold from the Harold & Kumar films).
If the writers were bolder there could have been some interesting conflict between Mills, an African-American female in a position of power, and the stranger from a time when such a thing would be unthinkable. Instead, it was made clear early on that Crane (Tom Mison) holds some pretty progressive views for an 18th-century Englishman.
This minimised the potential for fish-out-of-water humour, and if you hoped that decapitation puns would make up the gag shortfall, you'd have been disappointed. Here's one on me: Sleepy Hollow is mildly diverting television, but it's nothing worth losing your head over.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Amy Winehouse statue unveiled in Camden
- 2 Lego breaks out of the toy box and heads for the gallery
- 3 George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
- 4 Headaches, fry ups, and hair of the dog - why do we get hangovers, and is there such thing as a 'cure'?
- 5 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
George Galloway on Scottish independence: The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained in Los Angeles after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Scottish independence: Britain faces 'constitutional crisis' at next election
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly