Since the new season of Sleepy Hollow finally kicked off, I thought I’d reblog this exploration of what makes it a successful show.
I know I’ve got a story to finish, but I want to talk about the Fox show Sleepy Hollow because it does something no other show or film seems to do: It overcomes bad writing.
I love Washington Irving’s story on which the show is tenuously based. And I despise when movies and shows disregard source material in the name of flash. So, I went into this latest take on the classic work with a huge amount of skepticism.
Let me also add, I’m not a massive fan of creators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. They write films that eschew story in favor of huge action sequences. It’s what they’re hired to do, so I don’t blame them. It’s just a shame that the Transformers cartoon from the ‘80s had more character development than all three of the scripts they wrote for Michael Bay. (Full disclosure: I once got to speak to Kurtzman about his directorial debut People Like Us, which proves he can write a character-driven story.)
What I found in Sleepy Hollow were scripts that added storylines for convenience and ignored logic to get to necessary plot points. But, what I also found were great production values, charismatic actors and skilled directors.
And somehow, the dialogue shines, especially for the character of Ichabod Crane. The show reimagines him as a former British redcoat who defected to America’s side during the Revolutionary War and became one of George Washington’s greatest soldiers, who after a near-fatal injury, woke almost 250 years later thanks to a witch’s spell. (That’s so far from the source material they might as well have made him a robot, too.)
Crane’s character is written with some attention to historical detail. And actor Tom Mison deftly handles the balance of drama and humor required for a man out of time, yet on a mission. By his side, actress Nicole Beharie as Lt. Abbie Mills offers the perfect counterweight, fighting to apply her police skills to an otherworldly scenario. The bad writing I mentioned earlier comes in the form of Orci and Kurtzman’s series and episode arcs, which are laughably hodgepodge.
As for the production values and directors, low budgets usually prove the beginning of the end for horror shows. (Sci-fi fans seem much more forgiving of cardboard sets and rubber alien suits.) Unlike, say, American Horror Story, Sleepy Hollow walks the line between horror and buddy cop show—more X-Files than Walking Dead. And the directors are confident enough to present the horror in an old school way. They let the scares unfold onscreen, which is much scarier than most modern horror directors who feel smash close-ups equal scares.
Anyway, Sleepy Hollow stands as the first example I’ve ever witnessed of a bad writing not completely crippling a show. It’s just too bad the rest of the cast and crew are saddled with saving it each episode.