The premise of Sleepy Hollow is pretty dumb: Ichabod Crane resurrects after 250 years. He had been a soldier in the American Revolution (on the side of the colonists, naturally) and had been in battle with the man who would become the Headless Horseman. They killed one another, but their blood mingled on the battlefield, tying them together in occult-magic-stuff. Now the Horseman is back, and it turns out he is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Crane and 2013-era cop Abbie Mills are chosen warriors in the coming apocalypse. High-brow, thoughtful drama this is not.
What it is, however, is charming and infectious. The creators of Sleepy Hollow know the absurdity of the premise, and in the pilot they fling the viewer head-first into this world, expecting us to just accept it. And we do because the show is well-produced and keeps smirk firmly in place throughout.
Instead, what we get is a deconstruction of mythic American types, something that probably could only happen in 2013 and succeed. The last show to really give something like this a try was The X-Files, which created United States mythology through conspiracy and UFO culture. (Okay, admittedly Fringe did the same thing but with corporate culture/scientific advancement, but these things were not distinctly American per se. Regardless, Fringe had its roots in The X-Files, owed its very existence to it. It was a hugely successful update of the formula, and Sleepy Hollow also tips its hat to these two shows.) But in a 2013 context we are arguing about the future of our nation and what our government needs to be. It makes sense, therefore, to look to the past, rooting our male lead at the major conflict that became the birth of our nation. History and the present, then, co-mingle. But it isn’t true history; it is a fantasy of history. It is mytho-history. It creates a fantasy out of national myths and horror. In no way does Sleepy Hollow pretend to be accurate, just as it never pretends to be serious. The show asks us to just chill out for a bit and enjoy ourselves. Don’t be so rational, it says. And it never demands rationality from you.
Structurally, Sleepy Hollow is a mixture of The X-Files (male protagonist who is a believer, female protagonist who is more skeptical, monster-of-the-week format with an ongoing internal mythology) and Elementary/Sherlock (super-intelligent British male [with slightly underdeveloped social skills] with a well-developed partner who is equal but different [primarily due to personality]). All these shows work and they are all distinctly different. And Sleepy Hollow has the supernatural investigation aspect, which keeps me highly engaged.
So far I have only seen the first three episodes. I wanted to hate it, but I just couldn’t. It is too much fun. So long as it maintains the pace and momentum of these first three episodes, I may be sticking with this show for some time. (Possibly seven years, if the internal timeline of the apocalypse is anything to go by.)