“Sleepy Hollow” is a show that trades on a formula: This or that cursed object or ritual is about to usher in the apocalypse, or visit some doom or tragedy upon an innocent girl, or both. It reminds me a bit of an old show called “Friday the 13th” in which a curio shop owner collected occult objects that the heroes were trying to get out of public circulation.
The first episode of “Sleepy Hollow” has a headless axe-wielding British horseman emerging from a barn to terrorize a sleepy upstate New York community. In what seems a mashup of Irving’s Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane also mysteriously awakens 200+ years after facing the horseman in the 1700’s. In this telling, Crane is no wimpy schoolteacher, but rather a revolutionary war hero, played enthusiastically by Tom Mison, who is resurrected to take on this hideous beast. He teams up with a street wise female cop (Nicole Beharie), who becomes his partner of sorts. Some of the enjoyment in the early episodes is watching him cope with modernity, even as she must come to grips with the realization that there may be supernatural forces at work.
Fairly quickly, things take a turn for the apocalyptic. The headless horseman is none other than one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who is about to usher in the End of Days.
The Bible is treated in typical media fashion as a book of arcana that contains a recipe and doomsday calendar for the earth’s end. (Of course, to be fair, there are some Christians out there that view parts of it this way, too). The Bible is discarded for the most part except to offer up a frightening passage here and there from Revelations or Ezekiel. I haven’t watched enough to see if they are even using real verses or just making stuff up. In any case, even if the verses are real, there is no context or theological framework to make sense of them. The show basically puts the scripture in a blender and hits “frappe”.
True believers will be saddened to note that although demons abound, there is very little of God to be found anywhere. The forces in play are demons, not angels. The wrath of Molech is substituted for the wrath of God. And of course, the End of Days can be averted if humans can just stop that next portal from opening, or disrupt a profane ritual involving dribbling blood on some tied up female victim, or just get get that [insert occult object here] off the streets.
Perhaps they should have stopped with the pilot. The proverbial “jumping the shark” occurred somewhere fairly early on. Two seasons now have seen a proliferation of creatures and occult entities to rival even what the old 1960s “Dark Shadows” soap opera could envision at its campiest. (A Barnabas Collins vampire would fit right in; Alas, but Jonathan Frid was born too early). At least “Dark Shadows”–and “Ghostbusters”, to name another that pops to mind–didn’t take themselves too seriously. In “Sleepy Hollow”, that sickening sound you hear isn’t the rolling of heads onscreen, but of eyes offscreen, as the show chugs along, introducing pied pipers, cursed Judas coins, good witches fighting evil ones, a demon named Molech snarling at his human servants, a Frankenstein monster created by Benjamin Franklin, and so on.
So consider watching this for the atmosphere (though this seems to get less creepy as the silliness mounts), and perhaps for some unintentionally campy fun. But don’t expect to learn anything of eschatological or biblical importance. You won’t find much similarity with Washington Irving’s tales, either, aside from some names.