Friday, February 6, 2015

TV Review: SLEEPY HOLLOW - "Spellcaster"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

So SLEEPY HOLLOW is definitely doing what FOX promised it would during a recent press engagement and dialing back on its serial nature. This week’s episode, “Spellcaster,” is another in a string of recent installments whose main running time is concentrated on a singular case. Solomon Kent (Jonathan Schaech, Ray Donovan), who is responsible for the Salem witch trials, has escaped from Purgatory. Can Abbie (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod (Tom Mison) stop his selfish mission before destruction is wrought upon the world at large? Of course they can.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ll know I’m extremely disappointed that the show has become so procedural. In fact, I recently posted a Jerome-ing column on about this trend on the Big Four broadcast networks. Look, I enjoy Abbie and Ichabod working a case as much as the next guy because of their terrific chemistry, but it’s better when that dynamic is used while serving a greater purpose. So for now, I’ll just say yet again that it’s lazy writing and far less compelling storytelling when SLEEPY HOLLOW sticks to a case-of-the-week format.

Bringing Solomon Kent into the story also seems repetitive because of his place in history. Kent is not based on a real person, like recently seen Abigail Adams and Ben Franklin are, but in the SLEEPY HOLLOW mythology, he is responsible for a major historical event. I’m really getting tired of Ichabod and Katrina (Katia Winter) apparently knowing every person of importance in early American history. It just doesn’t make sense, especially here, where Kent’s story is set before the revolutionary times and in a place where the founding fathers didn’t frequently tread.

Another complaint I have is that the show allows Winter to play Katrina’s grandmother. This trope has been extremely overdone on television. I’ve never met anyone who looks nearly identical to a relative, unless it’s a twin. Certainly looking at pictures of my ancestors, the resemblance is obvious, but far from 100%, which makes sense, given the varying families’ genes that make up each new member. I’m sure doing this saves money for the production and gives the actor a chance to play someone else, but it just makes the story seem less grounded.

Lest you think all of my comments on “Spellcaster” are negative, there are some good parts to the hour. We finally catch back up with Henry (John Noble), who is living in a cheap motel. For much of the episode, it appears this may be a kinder, gentler version of the villain, up to the point where he is going to defend the motel’s owner and her son. Then, though, his true nature is revealed. He is mourning the death of his demon “father,” and any pain he inflicts is to reclaim his own position of power, not to protect weaklings. It’s an awesome reveal, played fantastically by the talented Noble.

It’s cool that SLEEPY HOLLOW seems poised to declare Henry the new Big Bad. The first season and a half, when the witnesses battle Moloch, is fine, but having Ichabod and Katrina’s son be more than a puppet opens up lots of possibilities and drama. Not everyone can be redeemed, and it’s satisfying that “Spellcaster” doesn’t go that route with Henry.

Less solid is Frank Irving’s (Orlando Jones) motivation. Katrina says his soul is clean, but “Spellcaster” definitely has Frank working for Henry. What’s more, previously Frank is resisting Henry’s orders. Now, they seem to be friends, though Henry likely sees Irving as a pawn, as Moloch used to see Henry. There is a missing chunk of time here when Irving becomes bad. Should the show go back and explain this, it would be fine. Given the way it is presented, though, it doesn’t seem likely that’ll happen.

SLEEPY HOLLOW is a good show from the start, becomes great at the end of its freshman season, and then flounders throughout the second year. There are moments of greatness, but much of this season, like this episode, is mediocre. A genre series needs to own its mythology and concept. SLEEPY HOLLOW is sadly not doing that at present, and whether that is a choice the writers or the network is making, it’s not a wise one.

SLEEPY HOLLOW airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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