03 November 2014

Because it's on TV: Why Sleepy Hollow is Television's Best Worst Show

Wait a second...

Anyway, a nice meaty post about Sleepy Hollow has been brewing inside me for a while. Since at least when I started paying attention to this maniacal thing last year. I still really stand by that Walking Dead post, by the way, and although I've heard better things about it, that taste in my mouth is just too sour for me to really climb back into the bosom of Rick and Carl. The title of TV's Best Worst Show is perhaps a misnomer for The Walking Dead, because no part of it is "best" at all. I wouldn't call it TV's worst show by any means, but it's certainly trying hard to bring zombie genre fare to the forefront of mainstream critically acclaimed programming, and while doing so has become really really hackneyed without shifting its tone of being half-prestigious / half-gory. I'm not sure quite what to feel about The Walking Dead right now, but it doesn't deserve that title I gave it.
And Clifford Franklin, himself! Seriously, in 1999 would you
ever think Orlando Jones could pull off being this dramatic?

Sleepy Hollow sure as fuck does. Sleepy Hollow is pure insanity taken to the maximum extent. It's a genre show that relishes its genre-ness. I'm confounded tuning into this monstrosity each week while staring at disbelief at what has been turned into a show. It's a delectably creepy mix of the occult, history, science fiction, and cop procedural. And unlike The Walking Dead, I've kept watching, because at least the characters are consistent.

I don't mean to oversell the zaniness, but part of the show's appeal is how completely schizophrenic the plot is while maintaining a difficult air of somberness and guilty-pleasure inducing self-aware fish-out-of-water humour. The riff of a basic Sleepy Hollow episode goes as follows: Ichabod Crane, who is actually not a historical character, but a historical fictional character, and some chick he ran into in modern day find A) a seemingly innocuous artifact left by a founding father that is crazy magical, B) a terrifying twist on an old fable, or C) some kind of monster that will fight either with them or against them that in some way adds to the coming Apocalypse.

It's a rhythm the show rarely deviates from. Along the way we get pleasurable sidenotes about how Ichabod Crane was best buds with Washington, Franklin, and Sam Adams for some reason, which contrast our modern mythologizing with reality, faux or otherwise. The fish-out-of-water stuff is lessening by now as Crane's pretty adapted, although there's still amusing anecdotes about Crane's aversion to everything from the vagabondery of today to some pithy ranting against the power of unfailable yet deregulated banks. It's solid.

Oh, and the Headless Horseman. What's basically Vice-President Agnew, this show has turned into the Horseman of Death. Yes, THAT Horseman of Death. While it spent a good amount of time finding its footing establishing a real world around Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie, who is crazily game for this nonsense), it's now really nothing more than a weekly creature feature that has more in common with The X-Files than anything else. That's not a bad thing. Except The X-Files had immortal characters walking a fine line of skepticism and belief. Sleepy Hollow is all belief, and if not, you'll probably be killed by a Wendigo.

I find it really fascinating examining the episodic nature of this show, because it always feels so serial. In every episode they're "running out of time," "the Apocalypse is near," and "with this artifact, the Horseman of War (John Noble, fresh off the set of Fringe) will doom us all." But then none of that shit happens, the dire consequences are solved by episode's end and next week there's something else that's dooming humanity. I don't even really have a complaint about the illusion of stakes, I'm too busy being impressed by the new shit they come up with each week. You'd think they could get a couple episodes out of Ben Franklin's kite key (WHICH OPENS UP A DOOR TO HELL), but they wrap that up pretty nicely.

Sleepy Hollow wears its doofiness on its sleeve while fully committing to its creepiness, historicalness, and Relevations-centric plotting. It all makes for a damned fun experience that avoids artificial drama in favor of THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN SEDUCING ICHABOD CRANE'S WITCH WIFE. How can you write that sentence in a serious show? Sleepy Hollow treats that shit deadly serious, which makes it a show worth watching. You can catch it tonight. In like, two hours.

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