'Sleepy Hollow' Could Have Been Great / by Jefferson Geiger

When Fox debuted a procedural drama based on Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in 2013, I was skeptical. I thought "Sleepy Hollow" was going to be just another cop show with a gimmick that makes it slightly different than the others but it's basically a facade. Instead, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Also borrowing from Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," the show has Ichabod Crane—a British double agent working for George Washington during the Revolutionary War—waking up in modern day Sleepy Hollow realizing that the war is over. However, it turns out that the last soldier he killed in the war is back as the Headless Horseman.

Crane teams up with local lieutenant Abby Mills and the two of them work together squashing supernatural threats. With Orlando Jones as Mills' captain, John Cho as another officer and Clancy Brown as the sheriff there was additional star power and charisma that was rare for a new television production.

But the cornerstone of the show rested on the odd couple chemistry between Crane and Mills. He’d quip about the sheer volume of Starbucks shops on a stakeout and she’d teach him karaoke. Mills would tease him about his antiquated language and Crane would throw down his pistol after one shot because he didn’t know it could hold more ammo.

There was no contrived romance because we’re all mature adults who can be satisfied with platonic relationships on television. To use an “X-Files” analogy, she was the Scully to his Mulder.

The refreshing twist of the first season is that it's revealed in the pilot that the Headless Horseman is actually Death, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. This opened up the opportunity to take the show in multiple directions with interesting possibilities. The demon Moloch, a witch of Abaddon, the Sandman, sin-eaters, the Lesser Key of Solomon, George Washington’s Bible and more made appearances throughout the 13 episodes.

Unfortunately, after the successful first season the writers got lost chose the wrong path many times.

Season two saw a significant ratings drop and the introduction of the Horseman of War as the new villain. The horseman, played by John Noble, is also Crane's son Henry. Yeah, it doesn't get any less convoluted from here.

Some new good characters became permanent, like Mills’ sister Jenny, while others were nothing but annoying distractions. Crane focused on his now odd family problems while his compelling screen time with Mills was sidelined.

The third season attempted to right the course but instead the changes, such as a timeslot shift, lead to another drop in ratings. I'm all for creators doing their own things and not caring about ratings, but it is odd for them to ignore their fanbase in the age of the internet.

A new baddie, Pandora, summons a multitude of generic horrors from her box. Yet Crane can easily conquer each new challenge of the day because somehow it connects to something he did back in the colonial era with Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, or [insert historical name here]. Having the answers to everything without any effort is bad writing and trying to namedrop everyone from the revolution doesn't look too good either.

Then, in the final episode of the season, Mills dies. The lead character that is destined to save the world with Crane bites the dust.

Remember that crucial cornerstone I mentioned? Gone. Everyone assumed that the season finale would be the series finale since a renewal wasn't announced before the episode aired. Great shows are usually renewed towards the start of their season, terrible ones are cancelled at roughly the same time and the fate of middling shows are announced on a sliding scale.

The announcement that it was renewed for a fourth season—for some reason—came a month after the finale.

Last Friday’s premiere changed the show so much that I still can't believe I'm watching the same program. Crane and Jenny and are the only ones from before that appear in the new season while five fresh faces join the cast.

Oh, and I buried the lead here: the setting is now in D.C. “Sleepy Hollow” doesn’t even take place in Sleepy Hollow anymore. 

Crane is now tasked to find a new sidekick who happens to have the soul of Abbie and the monster of the week is a demon that is actually John Wilkes Booth.

This is shaping up to be like season of “X-Files” that focused on John Doggett and Monica Reyes instead of the two agents who had been the leads for eight previous seasons. Can’t we go back to the Headless Horseman and the Book of Revelation?

I'll still be watching because I'm a completist and train wrecks can be entertaining, however, you do not have to be a masochist like me.

This column was originally published in the January 11, 2017 edition of the Valley Courier.