‘Sleepy Hollow’ pilot review: FOX’s spellbinding series is a must see

‘Sleepy Hollow’ cast dazzles in FOX’s spellbinding new supernatural drama. (Photo credit: FOX via Fox Flash)

If you are like me, then you still enjoy an element of surprise when watching something for the first time. I have read several reviews for ‘Sleepy Hollow’ over the summer and they grew increasingly more revealing with time. Some even let out a major spoiler or two. In order to preserve a sense a mystery, this review will remain spoiler-free. I will only discuss what has become common knowledge about the series and will explain why this brilliant new show will be an instant fall favorite for tons of viewers. After the pilot airs on September 16th I will post a detailed recap and we can start sharing our favorite moments, as well as begin discussing theories on what may come as the season progresses.

What you need to know about the pilot

‘Sleepy Hollow’ is anything but sleepy or hollow.

The series opens in the thrusts of battle during the Revolutionary War. A fearsome mercenary and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) charge towards each other. Gun-fire doesn’t bring the masked man down, so Crane chops off his head (he later notes in interrogation, that it was the next logical step.) As they both lay dying on the battlefield, their spilt blood merges, igniting a blood-spell that binds them together. We gradually learn it is because of this bond that Crane awakens in modern day Sleepy Hollow 250 years later. Sounds intriguing, no? Well, it gets better. Crane’s past is only part of ‘Sleepy Hollow’s’ many mysteries.

While confused Crane awakens in the 21st century, we meet a young and ambitious lieutenant named Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). She witnesses the Headless Horseman decapitate her partner and friend, Sheriff August Corbin (Clancy Brown). Unfortunately, she can’t simply report the truth to her boss, Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones), because he wouldn’t believe her. When she reaches the station, she sees Crane held as the murder suspect and immediately states that he is not guilty of committing this crime because he does not look like the murderer she saw earlier. When Crane accurately describes the Headless Horseman, Mills realizes that he may be the only person she can trust with the truth.

In a delightfully entertaining scene, Crane explains his colorful past to detectives while hooked up to a polygraph machine. He tells of his work as a spy for George Washington during the war and confesses to decapitating the Horseman. Everything he says rings true and he passes the polygraph test, so the detectives think Crane is simply crazy or he has proficiently flushed out a solid insanity defense. Capt. Irving orders Crane to undergo a 72 hour psych evaluation. Mills wants to ask Crane some questions and convinces Irving to allow her to transport Crane to the psychiatric institution so she can get some answers on the way. During their car ride and subsequently exciting adventures, we quickly see that Crane and Mills will be a fun and interesting partnership to watch as the series continues.

Mills drives Crane to the site of his emergence. As they examine the cave, Crane finds a Bible that was buried with him. When he reads a marked passage, the series’ mythology becomes clear. The Headless Horseman is Death, the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. His arrival in Sleepy Hollow marks the beginning of the end. Mills and Crane must work together to make sure that Death does not literally unleash Hell on Earth.

As the episode unfolds, there are plenty of juicy twists that take you by surprise. Mills reveals a childhood vision/experience to Crane that brings them closer together. After a bit of digging, Mills realizes that the Sheriff was harboring some major secrets of his own, which tie into the show’s mythology. (Check out FOX’s cryptic new teaser to see the Sheriff’s findings.) We also learn that the Headless Horseman may have a hold over some of the residents in Sleepy Hollow, so unsuspecting characters could be doing his bidding. Lastly, we get a tantalizing glimpse at Crane’s wife, Katrina. As promos have revealed, Katrina, unbeknownst to Crane, was a witch. Katrina and her coven vowed to defeat evil. As a result of her efforts, she is now trapped in a mysterious realm. She communicates with Crane through his dreams and tries to guide her husband from the beyond, in hopes of preventing the apocalypse.

Why you should tune in

‘Sleepy Hollow’ lived up to my early expectations and beyond. Executive producers, Alex Kurtzman, Bob Orci, Mark Goffman, and Len Wiseman, achieved everything they aspired to accomplish. During Comic-Con they revealed that they want to create a show that is funny, scary, suspenseful and highly entertaining. I think congratulations are in order because they delivered on all counts. ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is a breath of fresh air this fall and I was captivated from start to finish. The only time I was disappointed was the moment it ended because I want to know what happens next…immediately. With a gripping show like ‘Sleepy Hollow’ fans will be counting down the days between episodes. Part of that is due to the show’s well conceived mythology and extremely engaging storytelling.

The Story

Kurztman & Co. explained that FOX wanted to see their game-plan for the series before giving it the green light, as a result, you can tell that ‘Sleepy Hollow’ is very carefully crafted and cleverly mapped out. There is a robust mythology at the core of this series and it will appeal to viewers’ various interests. History has been re-imagined with a fun twist that serves the story well. The Bible’s Book of Revelations offers a blueprint of the impending Apocalypse, but I’m sure we will not see the Sunday school version of the End of Days. The Four Horsemen shall be portrayed in an interesting new light, as we learned during Comic-Con it was not part of the plan for Death to lose his head. The occult and witchcraft will be used to serve both good and evil, which allows for more elements of fantasy and history to factor in. There is also a mysterious realm that begs to be explored: is it Purgatory, Hell, a parallel plain, or just a vision used to torment those who have vowed to vanquish evil? All of these things are masterfully introduced in the pilot and presented with great cinematic quality.

The Cinematic Aesthetic

As the pilot moved along, it felt like I was watching a film, which is exactly what the creators want to achieve with the series. Each week plays out like a mini-movie. Len Wiseman (‘Underworld,’ ‘Live Free or Die Hard’) directed the pilot and hopes to return to direct more episodes this season. His vision is inspired and the production quality is spectacular. His carefully chosen camera angles are worth watching closely. There is a brilliant shot where the Headless Horseman beheads someone and the scene is shown from the head’s perspective as it falls to the floor. (Watch out for it in the embedded video, it is only a split second, but it is so cool!) The transitions between dreams, flashbacks, memories and the present are all very well done and easy to follow. Mirrors are artistically used as a type of portal to another realm and every time we get an eerie peek into the unknown, it sends chills down your spine. The cinematography is simply stunning. Kudos to Wiseman for his stellar work on one of the best TV pilots I have ever seen.

The Cast

Plot-lines and production values will only get you so far with a TV show, most of the time a series hinges on the cast and ‘Sleepy Hollow’ definitely delivers in that department.

The early buzz around Tom Mison is all true, he will charm his way into countless households. The charisma he exudes as Crane is captivating. He is every bit as charming as you’d hope and he is outright hilarious. Mison beautifully brings the writing to life and delivers each punch-line with panache. He finds the perfect balance between earnestness and cheeky humor. There are many laughs at his expense, but Crane never feels like the butt of the joke. As many reviews have said before, Crane’s fish-out-water element is cause for several laugh-out-loud moments. Of course, he is only half of the equation.

Nicole Beharie stands her ground as a young female cop surrounded by dominant men. Det. Abbie Mills is ambitious, dedicated and diligent. She is also haunted by secrets from her past, which reveals her vulnerability. Beharie and Mison have a natural chemistry and play nicely off of one another. A sweet aspect of the pilot is seeing how quickly Crane and Mills bond over their ties to this freaky mythology. They both have a shared experience, which makes them immediately trust each other. They take it upon themselves to stop the Apocalypse and know they are in this fight as a team. Each one of them has very different skills to offer and it will be fascinating to see how they will work together on a case-to-case basis. Technically, Mills is the straight man in the pilot and sets Mison up for more of the laughs. However, she also has a bit of fun toying with Crane. It will be fun to see how their dynamic develops throughout the series.

Orlando Jones plays the hard-to-read Captain Frank Irving. Although Jones is known for his comedic work, there is nothing funny about Irving. He seems like a tough boss, but he does give Mills and Crane the right to pursue the Headless Horseman’s enigmatic case. Given the influence the Horseman has on some people in town, it is hard to tell if Irving may also be under his spell. Is he good or bad? We will just have to wait and see.

Bottom Line: Watch ‘Sleepy Hollow’

I already love this show! I’m happy the pilot lived up to my high expectations. I predict this series will garner an addictive fandom who will be anxiously counting down the days between episodes. I only hope that FOX gives this show the time it deserves to catch on. Monday’s at 9p.m. is a tricky time-slot and it would be a shame if ‘Sleepy Hollow’ suffers the same fate as ‘Firefly,’ ‘Alcatraz’ and many other shows that were prematurely cancelled due to bogus rating deficiencies and broadcast politics.

‘Sleepy Hollow’ premieres Monday, September 16 at 9 p.m. on FOX.

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