Sleepy Hollow episode one spoiler-free preview

Sleepy Hollow’s pilot is great gothic fun that could be the start of one of the year’s best series

sleepy hollow
The past and present collide in Sleepy Hollow

Having watched the first episode of new supernatural series Sleepy Hollow, we think this could be the new show to watch this year.

The number of TV series based on films that are in production at the moment is too exhausting to list, but Sleepy Hollow is worth setting aside your very reasonable grumbles for. This new show isn’t treading on the toes of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp gothic horror; instead it’s an energetic, funny spin on Washington Irving’s tale and, if it can maintain its pace, sense of humour and ambition, Sleepy Hollow could be one of this year’s biggest hits.

The first episode introduces us to Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) on the battlefield in 1776, squaring up to a redcoat with a broad-axe who seems impervious to bullets. Decapitation seems to stop him in his tracks, but when Ichabod wakes up in a cave in the present day, he realises that he’s not the only one who’s back from the dead. The Headless Horseman’s origins go back much further than the War of Independence, and he’s the first of four notorious riders. Now, the man out of time must convince dogged Lieutenant Abbie Archer (Nicole Beharie) that she needs his help if she’s going to stop the terror that’s sweeping the town of Sleepy Hollow.

If Sleepy Hollow’s concept (18th century man teaming up with modern day cop to stop supernatural killer and possibly the apocalypse) sounds daft, well, of course it is. But the pilot script (from JJ Abrams regulars Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Phillip Kurtzman and Underworld director Len Wiseman) embraces its high concept and runs with it. Rather than wasting too much time on either character bemoaning the impossibility of their situation, they just get on with it.

There are elements that will feel familiar. The supernatural conspiracy that’s set up by the end of the episode has that Kurtzman/Orci feel to it, but it appears to be less of a Lost-style convoluted mystery and more of a Supernatural-esque mission statement. By the end of the first episode, Ichabod and Abbie know what’s coming, and they know they have to stop it.

Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison have great chemistry as Abbie Archer and Ichabod Crane
Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison have great chemistry as Abbie Archer and Ichabod Crane

Speaking of Ichabod and Abbie, the performances from relative newcomers Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie are excellent. The former flits effortlessly between fish-out-of-water comedy and despairing urgency, while Beharie grounds the show during its more outrageous moments while showing a skill for deadpan wit. Their relationship and back-and-forth is a big part of this first episode’s success. The supporting cast is strong too, with Orlando Jones (Evolution) as the no-nonsense Captain and genre veterans Clancy Brown (Highlander, Starship Troopers) and John Cho (Star Trek) popping up to good effect.

Wiseman gives the first episode a strong visual style, combining small-town-apple-pie with plenty of moody Gothic elements (there’s more than a little fog). There are also some fun action set pieces which present the characters with the challenge of how to fight a man with no head, and it’s really quite creepy in places.

What really impresses about Sleepy Hollow, however, is its sense of humour. Ichabod’s confusion about the number of Starbucks (“Is there a law?”) to his fascination with how car windows go up and down help to create a general sense of fun that contrasts well with the episode’s darker moments, including a surprisingly high body count.

It’s not perfect and the show will have to deal with the big ideas it raises in this pilot, but as far as first impressions go, this episode is a great introduction to Sleepy Hollow. Whether or not the showrunners can keep this up remains to be seen, but we recommend tuning in to find out. With this and SHIELD, this year’s crop of new shows is looking very good indeed.

Sleepy Hollow starts in the UK on 9 October on the Universal Channel.