Tonight, Sleepy Hollow aired the fourteenth episode of its 17-episode season. But perhaps more importantly is the news of changes that occurred off-screen this week. First, there is the discouraging news (for this native North Carolinian writer) that the series is moving production from Wilmington, NC to Atlanta, GA because of some boneheaded legislators in my old home state. But neither here nor there, the more intriguing transition for fans’ interest came at last week’s TCA where Dana Walden, Fox TV chairman and CEO, told a room full of reporters that the network will be fiddling with the series’ tonal dynamics for a third season of Sleepy Hollow.
“We’re excited about some creative changes on the show and bringing it back to something that feels a little more episodic in nature, that has closure, and doesn’t feel quite so serialized.”
Traditionally, my default reaction when it comes to studio or network meddling, whether in film or television, is to recoil and question the role of corporate logic in the creative process. This paranoia is only heightened when we are promised a more “episodic” procedural that returns “the fun” to a long-form story. Generally speaking, these are all code words for “dumbing it down.”
However, after tonight’s misjudged hour of Sleepy Hollow, I can’t say my blood is in any danger of boiling or that fine-tuning the series might even cause a mild attempt at protest. Quite frankly, there is something increasingly troubling about this once lovable series that is marching ever closer to irrelevance. I am not against a makeover. In fact, it might be a saving grace.
For example, let’s look at Nick Hawley the ostensible season two addition to the Scooby Gang. Every series needs new blood and having a growing number of allies to Ichabod and Abbie’s biblical cause should be welcome. And Matt Barr is affable enough in the role that likely would have been closer to the series’ original conception of Ichabod Crane when Josh Holloway was offered the role. He’s a good ol’ boy barfly variation on Indiana Jones.
And yet, with only three episodes to go after tonight before season two bows out, Nick Hawley has never felt like anything more than an awkward intruder into the original cast of heroes from season one, even though he has had a cascading amount of more screen time than either Jenny Mills or Frank Irving this year. I suppose tonight’s episode was intended to rectify this issue by giving Nick Hawley an hour-long focus that ends with him more ingratiated with our band of heroes than ever before; it didn’t work.
While bringing in Hindu mythology in absence of a Christian one for its latest succubus villain seemed like a nifty idea, the “old flame out of the past” feels played out. Whether a friend (Sheriff Corbin’s son) or an ex-fiancée (Ichabod’s aquatic betrothed specter), the cliché has already been well worn this season. And oh yes, it is the entire premise of the Headless Horseman’s grotesque domestication, as this year has revealed him to be nothing more than an infatuated teenage boy with a crush.
So, instead of spending time on ramping us up for a season two finale—which honestly has felt wrapped up ever since Moloch got impaled—we are in a very “episodic” rerun with a character that on paper should be likable, but is inexplicably still a non-entity when compared to our heroes.
Meanwhile, Frank Irving, a fan favorite that has been egregiously pushed aside all year, is little more than an after thought cliffhanger. Again. His wife has miraculously started believing all this occultist mumbo jumbo even though she was ready to commit him to the loony bin last season, and they turn to Katrina for help. Katrina, however, seems more interested in searching for Henry through Irving’s memories, leading me to believe that while he may no longer be a servant of the Horseman of War (negating his entire arc this season), she saw there is something rotten in the magic of the character—and she is keeping it to herself.
Obviously, season two is building to Henry’s return and Katrina’s (hopefully final) break with Ichabod. I just wish it could conjure up some momentum for the series. The problem is not that it is too serialized; the issue with Sleepy Hollow is that the aspects that do work have been supplanted by narrative threads like Katrina’s bizarre pro-Headless actions and Hawley’s insistent inclusion. And both these aspects are regurgitated this week as Ichabod and Abbie are left to do nothing but retrace steps from three weeks ago when they already agreed that Katrina was A-OK for letting the Horseman of Death roam free.
The show needs direction, whether it is a returned Moloch or not, but most of all it needs to let its stars actually use their star appeal to elevate the material. Otherwise, I am left with an episodic episode about Arkansas Jones and Temple of Doom winks when all I cared about was seeing Ichabod Crane bring 18th century drinking shanties to Karaoke night. Now, an hour of that would have been a more fun episode!