Saturday, January 7, 2017

In Which I Review Sleepy Hollow (4x1)

Don't worry; I'm just as surprised as you are to find myself writing a review for this show once again. Eight months ago I wrote what I believed was my final review for Sleepy Hollow. With Abbie dead and the concept of the show changing from what had been working delightfully well for three years, I was convinced that Fox would not renew the show after fan backlash for said changes and the final word on Sleepy Hollow was Crane alone in the world looking for another partner to replace the one he lost. Turns out, I was wrong. I also said back then that if the show did return I most likely would not be returning with it. I was convinced that Sleepy Hollow without Leftenant Abigail Mills wasn't really Sleepy Hollow and any attempt to say otherwise would be heartily laughed at. Never underestimate the power of a TV network to think they can alter the viewers minds through sheer will and determination. Let's get real: this isn't Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, Ichabod--and even Jenny--are here and they talk about all that came before, but the show has been altered--rebooted and retooled--to become a new show, a different show. The season four premiere sets it all up in the title; welcome to "Columbia." So, diving head first (are head jokes still acceptable puns for this show?) into this new uncharted territory, how did it fair? Let's go!

Do you remember what made Ichabod so special in those opening moments of season one? It was the basic yet fun "fish out of water" theme that the show ran with for several seasons. This sort of story works because the audience is in on the joke; someone not being able to work something as everyday as a shower is automatically hilarious to a viewer who encounters these mundane objects on a daily basis. Ichabod, a man from the eighteenth century, finds himself in the twenty-first, driving in a car with a black cop wondering why there is a Starbucks on every corner. Also, just wondering what a Starbucks is. It was this man-out-of-time feel that made Ichabod so delightfully cute and captivating. In one breath, Ichabod Crane could explain the metaphysical ramifications of a demon's plot and in the next breath declare that he must "internet immediately" while having no idea how to even turn on the computer. The show itself has gone to impressive lengths to reboot itself this year--a new partner, a new city, a new mythos. But the one thing it cannot reboot and retool is Ichabod's charming wonderment at the world around him; after three seasons, the gig is up. He knows how to turn on a coffee pot; he knows how to drive; he knows how to use a computer to research. His quirks are still present with greatly diminished returns; they are a gentle and fond remembrance of something long since passed. If it is next to impossible--and I would argue just impossible--to recapture Ichabod's initial charm then isn't Sleepy Hollow, the show, in danger of becoming another run of the mill supernatural procedural? Fox already has another one of those--it's called "Lucifer" and its biggest saving grace is that the titular character has that same fish out of water feel while bringing his own (literally) devilish charm to a police/civilian partnership. At any rate, this humdrum feel was exactly what I was waiting for while watching the season four opener. After all, go back and reread my season three reviews; those feelings were already starting to creep in.

So with all that in mind, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the season premiere managed to create a decent amount of intrigue and mystery. We have billionaire moguls who are interested in the Dark Arts, a search for a new Witness, a child who is suddenly rendered mute, and what appears to be prophetic drawings of our leading man. All of that makes for an interesting narrative set up; there's plenty to unpack and expand upon and delve into. Sleepy Hollow is usually at its best when it throws spaghetti at the wall and sees what sticks. This includes everything from demons to witches to apocalypses to monsters of the week to uncovering "real" American history to huge sweeps of mythology; it's all goofy and weird but somehow endearing and charming. The narrative being laid out has all of those vital Sleepy Hollow elements, so why did it all feel so...hollow (unintentional pun is unintentional). This is the bad news; there was something so bland about this episode. Ichabod was neither witty nor charming (though Tom Mison did his very best to make Ichabod the character we've known for three years); Diana has the same "tough but emotionally troubled cop" as Abbie (which is only slightly infuriating) but with the added element of being a struggling mother which overall feels like a pointless character point and only serving the narrative; and the chemistry that Ichabod had almost instantly with his Sleepy Hollow compatriots was sorely lacking with his Columbian ones. Every effort was made to help the audience feel at home with this new rebooted series; they even constructed a highly improbably secret vault for Ichabod and Diana to play in, just like Mr. Crane and his Leftenant. If this had been the episode that premiered four years ago, I don't know that I'd be as enamored. Sleepy Hollow, in its original form, was not only a quirky supernatural police procedural with fantastic characters but was meaningful and oddly subversive with its strong, black, independent woman taking point in a fight against evil, carrying her weight just as much as her white male counterpart, with a pragmatic eye and no nonsense attitude. Everything that comes after that must find a way to walk outside the long shadow that Abbie Mills cast and I just don't think that Diana Thomas cuts it. For example, gauge your response to Diana throughout the entire episode versus your singular reaction to seeing Jenny Mills wielding a machine gun, saving Ichabod's life. That is what this show is (was?). Diana and her D.C. friends are place holders for what was and could be again if the writers went in a more natural (read: Mills) direction. Maybe it will feel more natural as we roll on and learn more about Diana and the other lab rats, but I can't shake the feeling that Sleepy Hollow died with Abbie Mills. This is Columbia and it's just not as good.

Miscellaneous Notes on Columbia 

--Things that are evil, according to Ichabod Crane: "demons, the apocalypse, the ongoing success of real housewives. You know...evil."

--This episode felt weighted by the past and the idea that while the past is beautiful the future is even better. Many conversations beat this idea into our heads; it's a bit heavy handed.

--President Abraham Lincoln was killed by a demon.

--"Everything is about Hamilton these days." I agree, random guy in Washington D.C. I agree.

--Presenting Jenny Mills: "soldier, scholar, gentlewoman, and all around bad ass."

--Ichabod on Abbie to Diana: "She helped me find my feet as I helped her find hers. She was the best." These two lines sum up what I took almost three paragraphs to make clear.

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