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Confessions of a 'Sleepy Hollow' Cynic

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 21, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | January 21, 2014 |

I almost feel like there aren’t any safe spaces on the Internet to express my actual feelings about Sleepy Hollow, and to even say anything negative about the gothic fantasy feels almost unnecessarily cruel. Why would anyone pick on Sleepy Hollow? It’s such a harmless diversion, and while it’s certainly not original (it’s yet another re-imagining of a classic literary fairy tale character, all of which have sprung from Once Upon a Time), Tom Mison is so charming, Nicole Beharie is so lovely and talented, and John Noble is a gifted, incredible character actor that to criticise the show seems almost malicious.

And yet, I don’t really like Sleepy Hollow, and I feel like I can’t possibly be alone, as the series has shed nearly 40 percent of its viewership since its debut. Personally, I’d have abandoned the series myself, but for the fact that it was only 12 episodes, and I figured I could muscle through and make the investment to see how it plays out.

So, you can imagine that for me — and others similarly situated — that last night’s two-hour season finale felt like the first season finale of The Killing. I struggled to stay awake, all told, for 13 hours, and I got no payoff, only a cliffhanger that — frustratingly — was compelling enough to bring me back in season two to just see how it all plays out.

That’s cruel (and smart). I am not hooked on Sleepy Hollow, but I am a curious person.

It’s not that the show doesn’t have its moments. It does. The fan service is nice; the inside jokes are fun; the digs at Ichabod’s clothing are amusing; and the chemistry between Mison and Beharie is fantastic. But the show itself is so plodding and slow, and the developments eke out at such a slow rate that the “previously on” scenes by themselves easily bring the audience up to speed on the storylines, which is to say: You can condense the entire plot of the previous episodes into a 45-second chunk and not miss a beat (those scenes have actually been important on occasion when Sleepy Hollow puts me to sleep). The mythology itself is creaky and self-serious, and as much as I like Orlando Jones, his character is no fun at all.

In fact, that’s one of my biggest problems with the series as a whole: It seems to tease the prospect of witty, fast-paced episodes with zippy repartee, clever jokes, and a rich, vibrant mythology, but it rarely delivers on that. Instead, typical of a formulaic network procedural, each episode is a cat-and-mouse game, where the characters follow one lead to another lead to yet another lead, but instead of finding the killer at the end of each episode, they find another clue — a map, or a key, or a passage in a book — that helps fill in the puzzle. Meanwhile, they repeat themselves several times throughout each episode in case the slow guy in the back of the audience still hasn’t caught on. Much of each episode acts as its own “previously on” scene.

It’s a show that I desperately want to like, and one that I know many people really respect and enjoy, and I can appreciate why: Mison and Beharie are great, and the premise is theoretically fun, but the promise of each episode always seems to crumble underneath the slog of the pace, the plodding dialogue, the constant repetition, and the exposition dumps. But I will grant that, after a two-hour season finale that seemed to drag on for eons, the cliffhanger was perfect, and it seemed to offer a lot of promise for its second season, promise that I fear will never come to fruition.