The Sleepy Hollow Pilot Goes All In

Sleepy-Hollow-Title

This blog has been pretty dormant over the past month or two, as other obligations and time away haven’t allowed me to be posting at will. But with the Fall TV Season finally here, I’m hoping to ramp everything back up and dip into more music on television each week. Between two jobs and writing elsewhere I still can’t promise an exact number of posts per show/week/etc. but I’m operating under the more is better assumption so whatever jumps out at me I’m cautiously optimistic that I will have brief thoughts as necessary about Show X.

After the time away, it only makes sense that we jump into the fall season with the most bat shit crazy show of the fall: Sleepy Hollow. I went into the Sleepy Hollow pilot only wishing to be entertained for an hour and to be able to laugh at all the bananas happenings that were promised in the trailer released after upfronts this summer. I left the hour with both of these things, but also a hope that maybe this show won’t be as big a train wreck as it seemed upon first impression a few months ago. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very tiny sliver of hope and the show will probably crash and burn about halfway through the current episode order, but hope there is and there will be for as long as the cast, crew and writers are able to continue the balancing act of insanity, entertainment and curiosity that currently exists.

There were a lot of things that contributed to my surprise with this first viewing of the show; the acting quality, the chemistry between not only the two leads but the cast as a whole and the ability for the storytelling to have me cracking up and interested at the same time. Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie are great together, with an ease and camaraderie not often found in network pilots. Orlando Jones is a perfect foil/enabler/amused boss who doesn’t quite know how to react to anything that’s going on, and in her few brief moments on screen Katia Winter does an admirable job playing Ichabod Crane’s wife who is also a witch who is also responsible for him waking up 250 years after he died in the Revolutionary War. Yes, the whole thing is just as crazy and confusing as it sounds but at one point the Headless Horseman walks through a cemetery with a pump action shotgun and then starts sizzling when the sun comes up (because he can only survive at night, you see) so it was all worth it in the end.

What shocked me the most watching the show tonight was exactly how many chips FOX put in the center of the table on this show, when any sane person could tell you that the very best case scenario is probably that it becomes a cult favorite after this first order of episodes, destined for mid-season premieres for as long as FOX can get away with having it on the air. There’s a great line (and the one I laughed at the hardest) where Crane reads a passage from Revelation that speaks of “a seven year bond between partners to combat the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, which just so happens to be the standard contract for every network show as soon as a pilot is picked up to air. It’s a ballsy and winking comment for FOX to include in the first episode and it only speaks to the confidence they may have in the show.fall_tv_preview_sleepyhollow1

Even further, FOX spent a decent chunk of change on this pilot. Granted, most networks due so for their pilots but again, this isn’t one that I would have guessed would have gotten that treatment. Len Wiseman (Underworld, Total Recall), directed and I’m sure he commands a pretty decent paycheck for TV work at this point in his career. Other than guest star John Cho, there were no actors that would need to be paid a shocking amount to do a network pilot, unlike The Following on FOX last year. Amidst all of this spending though, the most jaw dropping moment for me was over the opening scene when the familiar strains of “Sympathy for the Devil” began. Indeed, FOX licensed The Rolling Stones for a pilot that nobody has a large amount of confidence in at all.

I actually liked the choice of music to open and close the episode, it’s hard to go wrong with “Sympathy” in the first place but in this case it worked very well. It’s actually a less obvious song than others that could have been chosen, as it comes from an era between the one in which the show takes place and the one where one half of the main duo lived during. They could have used almost any upbeat song from the last 10 years or a classical piece reminiscent of the 1700’s and it would have been passable as a table-setter if not perfect. But by utilizing an instantly famous song the show focused on drawing the audience in first and selling them on the mood of the show later. Anyone in the audience who had Bones on in the background was much more likely to stick around for Sleepy Hollow after hearing that song of all songs opening the show. It places a certain level of quality front and center first thing for a show where the directing and special effects will almost assuredly drop of a cliff next week (not unique to this show as it happens after every network pilot once the initial sales pitch is over and done with).

Still, even with all the sense it makes to utilize this song and how well it actually worked over both the opening and closing credits it seems so out of the ordinary for a network to spend most of the budget for an episode on one song. This treatment is usually reserved for shows that have been consistently successful and are run with intelligence by a trusted team, spending this money is a vote of confidence from the network to the show that they will use it wisely to prove a point or underline a major moment in the show’s story. Instead, FOX did it right off the bat. In February, Mercedes released a commercial that is still on the air featuring Willem Defoe, Kate Upton and “Sympathy for the Devil” as a backing track. They paid $1.5 Million for the privilege. Based on the amount of the song used in each instance, we can safely assume that Sleepy Hollow cut a similar sized check and possible a little less since the commercial is still running and this was a one time use.

It’s an interesting wrinkle in the ongoing narrative of the show’s reception among critics and the audience. Is it possible that we’re all watching it as a show we can laugh at and FOX is looking at it as a show they can build on? Or is it an attempt from the team behind the show to elevate its quality beyond what the plot lines introduced tonight would have us believe? Or is it simply an apropos song choice that shouldn’t be read into as anything more than a quality choice that backed an otherwise crazy series of events over the span of an hour? Only time will tell, and in the coming weeks I can only hope that not only does the entertaining nature of the show stay at the same level as tonight but that they continue to choose music that works for the show in the same way “Sympathy” did tonight, even if it takes much less money for the use of the song.

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