Tom Mison (One Day)
Nicole Beharie (American Violet)
Orlando Jones (Evolution)
Katia Winter (Arena)
Lyndie Greenwood (Nikita)
John Noble (Fringe)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST
John Cho (American Pie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Nicholas Gonzalez (The Flash)
Monique Ganderton (Mutant X)
Carsten Norgaard (The Three Musketeers)
James Frain (Gotham)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Neil Jackson (Blade: The Series)
Erin Cahill (Power Rangers Time Force)
Jill Marie Jones (Ash Vs Evil Dead)
Laura Spencer (Bones)
Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards)
Matt Barr (7 Below)
Zach Appelman (Beaut yand The Beast)
Cynthia Stevenson (Dead Like Me)
Aunjanue Ellis (The Help)
Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy: The Vampire Slayer)
Jaime Murray (The Finder)
Steven Weber (Izombie)
Shelby Steel (Powers)
To say that I was skeptical about Sleepy Hollow as a series would be an understatement. After all, how could Ichabod Crane vs. the Headless Horseman get dragged out far enough to fill all those hours and remain watchable? But in the most delightful surprise of the fall season, Sleepy Hollow quickly proved to be more than up to the task. With a perfectly matched pair of leads, the show hit the ground running and never looked back.
From their first scene together Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison displayed an easy chemistry that only grew stronger as the weeks went by, aided immensely by sharp writing that understood these two were the most essential ingredient for Sleepy Hollow’s success. In the first half of the season the small supporting cast suffered in comparison, as it took time for characters like Jenny and Frank to be brought into the fold and have us get to know them. But by the finale all the time spent with Abbie and Ichabod paid off beautifully in scenes where the emotions ran deep without having to spell everything out to the audience. By the time they had to dive into Purgatory together and eventually part ways all the decisions they made were believable since they were character-based and not simply the writers forcing them in directions for the sake of the plot.
This attention to character was particularly impressive, since the show trades in some wild plots: Headless Horseman, George Washington’s secret war, Crane’s witch wife in Purgatory, etc. The creative team behind Sleepy Hollow seems to have an instinctive understanding that if the audience doesn’t care about these people, it doesn’t matter how cool it might be to see the Horseman with an automatic weapon. That being said, it is really cool to see the Headless Horseman blazing away, and when he showed up it was always a show-stopper. The season also had more than its share of other great effects as well, whether it was whatever was happening to poor Andy (head knocked backwards, cocooned and turned into a slithery bald dude) or some of Moloch’s freaky, fast-moving minions.
With all of the insanity going on it would have been easy to fall into the trap of letting the humor undercut the stakes, but Sleepy Hollow’s very difficult tone was maintained throughout the season. Oddly enough for a show about a British Revolutionary War soldier who wakes up in 2013 and partners up with an overqualified police lieutenant to fight a war against evil, the key to maintaining that tone has been restraint. Nothing overstayed its welcome on Sleepy Hollow. The Headless Horseman was a remarkably intimidating physical presence who immediately gave a jolt to any episode he rode into – he’s an ace in the hole that could have become all too familiar very quickly. But aside from the brief time that our heroes imprisoned him we rarely got a glimpse of him. His absence, sometimes for weeks, made his appearances carry far more weight and dread than if we had gotten a weekly dose of him riding around the forest.
The same goes for the show’s keen sense of humor. The comedic opportunities presented by Crane waking up in the 21st century are a rich vein, one that they’ve managed to tap each week without being repetitive or overwhelming. Instead it came in bite-sized portions while informing the character – Mison’s bemused reactions from everything from OnStar agents to dry cleaning were wonderfully understated and telling as Ichabod became more accustomed to life in the modern age. By the end of the season he was complaining about his apps failing to load in the middle of the forest, which was both hysterical and showed how much he had changed.
This attention to detail when it comes to Abbie and Ichabod was marvelous, but it didn’t leave much room for anybody else. It took awhile, but Frank and Jenny were eventually brought up to speed with their troubled histories and joined the team. Unfortunately Katrina remained in limbo in every sense – Ichabod longed for her (it’s a credit to Mison that this was always believable) but she never registered as anything other than a plot device/exposition delivery system. And while the Horseman and Moloch were scary, larger-than-life enemies they couldn’t do much more than occasionally show up and threaten everybody. There were few real, flesh-and-blood villains here and when there were it was usually because somebody has been possessed or otherwise coerced. The Hessians were a potentially far-reaching group that could provide all kinds of problems for our heroes, but they were largely forgotten in the stretch run of the season- hopefully they’ll return next year. Happily, the last 15 minutes or so of the finale signaled a change in all this, as Katrina was freed ( and a fantastic bad guy was introduced… …or was unmasked, to be more accurate. John Noble dropped by enough for me to stop questioning what secrets he might have – he had simply become loveable Henry, always welcome and able to help our heroes out of a jam. So when he finally revealed himself to be Ichabod’s son Jeremy and the Second friggin’ Horseman, it landed like a thunderclap. It was the rarest of things in today’s television landscape: a well-earned plot twist. It also doesn’t hurt that Noble seems to be able to do anything.
In addition to Noble, the guest star MVPs were Clancy Brown and John Cho. While their characters couldn’t have been more different, both had parallels in their relationship to Abbie. Brown was wonderful in his role as Abbie’s mentor and every time he showed up, whether it was a flashback or archival footage or a dream, his loss was felt. His quick exit was both disappointing and perfect, since his absence leaves Abbie without a safety net, personally and professionally. And Andy was the polar opposite: a weak-willed servant of Moloch who never stopped pining for her.
Of course it all comes down to Abbie and Ichabod in the end. Their relationship was so carefully constructed by the writers and actors over the course of the year that by the end they were able to have whole conversations with just a couple of looks. This can be one of the craziest shows on TV and it’s such a blast when it is, and yet when I look back on the season as a whole I keep coming back to their quiet scenes in the cabin, teasing each other about plastic or finding hidden messages from George Washington. All of this has added up to a thoroughly entertaining show which is, after all, the whole point. Sleepy Hollow’s freshman season set the bar high with the expected scares, unexpected humor, and impressive lead performances. And a Headless Horseman wielding automatic weapons, which is always nice.
Making the balance between humor, horror and action look easy, season 1 of Sleepy Hollow set the bar high. An expanded season 2 (jumping to 18 episodes from 13) more than met that standard in the first half, throttling though the high-stakes plot of Moloch trying to escape Purgatory and the Witnesses gaining more allies. And while the series struggled to find itself after that story came to end—likely due to the network-mandated order to become less serialized—the show always remained worthwhile and very enjoyable due to the solid characters and relationships that had been established.
This season felt inspired from the start, with the terrific premiere episode “This is War” displaying sly storytelling as Abbie and Ichabod struggled to escape Purgatory. The later introduction of Benjamin Franklin (in flashbacks), more revelations about the Mills family history and the remarkable episodes leading up to the midseason finale all made for a rollicking first half. Despite meandering with the back half standalone episodes, the finale more than made up for any aimlessness by giving us what we watch for in the first place: Abbie and Ichabod, BFFs.
With Abbie and Ichabod already firmly entrenched as partners in the war against evil, the show was able to widen its focus to other characters. The best results were with Jenny, who became better-rounded and an integral part of the team. But Abraham/Headless benefitted from more attention as well, as we got to know his motivations. Even the risky addition of Hawley paid off better than expected, and by the time he got his send-off episode his connection to Jenny and the Witnesses felt earned and real. Irving also wound up being a bit shortchanged, as the show had written him into the corner of the psych ward for murdering cops. When he was tricked into signing over his soul to Henry it looked like a rich storyline in the making but nothing much ever came of it and everything involving him seemed made up on the fly, almost as an afterthought (for instance, the cloudy reason behind him being released but not exonerated—I’ll admit I glided past that as a viewer, but the more you pay attention to his story over the season, the shakier it gets). Despite this I was glad to see him get some terrific moments, both big and small—his sacrifice (which wound up being temporary) in the midseason finale and his intimate scenes with Jenny towards the end.
John Noble continued to be a tremendous presence whenever he appeared. The reveal at the end of season 1 that he was the Crane’s son gave him plenty to dig into this year and Noble made Henry’s bitterness and hurt come through with intensity. Once he dispatched Moloch, though, the show didn’t seem to know what to do with him and his death wound up being pretty anticlimactic, even it did serve to set off the season endgame for the marvelous “Tempus Fugit”. More problematic was the character of Katrina. She simply never worked. Not as a damsel in distress, not as the third wheel and not as an abruptly-turned villain. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, as the writers tried to integrate her into Team Witness several times with lukewarm results. I didn’t buy her sudden shift from ally to enemy, but it was a quick and painless way to give her character a good exit in service of the story. The trouble was that Beharie and Mison had established such rare buddy chemistry that Ichabod finally getting his lost love out of Purgatory threw a wrench into it. Even at her best, as in “Pittura Infamante”, it wasn’t enough to match any given scene between Abbie and Ichabod. That pretty much left the show with few options; either relegate her to the sidelines or kill her off.
But the biggest stumbling block this season came down from on high: FOX wanted to series to become less serialized, and Sleepy Hollow tried hard to accommodate the order. The result was an awkward stop-and-start second half, with several scenes of Abbie and Ichabod wondering out loud what their purpose was now that Moloch had been defeated. I had no problem with the death of Moloch, since he wasn’t much of a bad guy, but the absence of a Big Bad was immediately felt. Knowing full well that this might have been it for the series, the show rallied and came up with a very satisfying ending that conclusively wrapped up loose ends while leaving the door wide open for a possible return. Sleepy Hollow’s best hours have been the ones dealing with ongoing stories while the self-contained episodes were much more hit-and-miss, but this is a creative team that’s proven it knows how to put together a great show I’m hopeful that they get a chance to find that balance because when this series is in a groove it’s a joy to watch. Despite any problems Sleepy Hollow ran into, though, Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison were the rocks at the center the show. Their extraordinary chemistry has been the single greatest asset of an awfully good series from the start, able to shift gracefully from easygoing humor to partners in lockstep to dear friends dealing with life and death stakes in a single hour. They’re a microcosm of the show itself, one that at its best could deliver laughs and thrills side by side with terrific characters we cared about throughout.
Despite difficulty adjusting to less-serialized storytelling in the back half, season 2 of Sleepy Hollow started and ended strong enough to measure up well with its stellar first year.