Creepy Halloween Fun on TV

When I saw the first trailers for Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow,” I made fun of them. I said things like “Ha ha! How stupid!” and things of that nature.

But, alas, I am a hypocrite, because even as I made fun of the commercials I thought to myself, “Who am I kidding. If this show goes up on Hulu I’m gonna watch it.”

Which it did, and I did.

And I was very pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was.

Sleepy-Hollow-Logo

In the very first episode, you’ve got time travel, multiple decapitations, revisionist American history, a machine-gun-wielding Headless Horseman, and the phrase “Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse.”

And if reading the phrase “Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse” didn’t make you smile just now, then this probably isn’t the show for you.

But if it did, then you are in for a good time. Seriously, I really like this show. It’s a strange, unwieldy beast to be sure, but it is a heck of a lot of fun, and it fulfills all the requirements of good television.

Likable, engaging leads with good chemistry? Check.

sleepy hollow characters

Creative premise? Check.

Fun storylines with a lot of variation each week? Check.

Briefly, the show reimagines Ichabod Crane as a British Revolutionary War soldier, who defected to the American side for some reason that currently escapes me. In battle, he fights this guy…

sleepy-hollow-pre-headless

And lops his head off, but is killed himself in the process. He wakes up in the modern-day town of Sleepy Hollow, and is understandably baffled by cars, electricity, and the like. Turns out Ichabod’s wife was a (good) witch, who put some kind of spell on him. His fight with the Horseman (pictured above) has left the two of them connected somehow, since their blood mixed on the battlefield or something. The Horseman has also awakened in the present day, which is why Ichabod awakens at the same time.

So there are some weird things going on in Sleepy Hollow, and Ichabod soon meets the show’s other protagonist, Lieutenant Abby Mills, a cop with a troubled history who has her own reasons for believing Ichabod’s story of having come from the 18th century. Together, Abby and Ichabod fight monsters.

If this all sounds ridiculous, that’s because it absolutely is. But holy crap is it entertaining.

After watching this week’s episode on Hulu yesterday, I realized something else about why I like it so much.

And that is the aforementioned variation. The show is completely different each week. It’s a lot less predictable than other shows. There’s so much batshit craziness that it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.

This addresses one of the problems I have with a lot of TV shows, which is that they’re more or less the same every week. Even with shows I really like, such as Castle or Burn Notice, they still follow the same “Case-of-the-Week” or “Crime-of-the-Week” format. With Sleepy Hollow, it’s more of a “Monster-of-the-Week” setup.

For me, this is awesome, since you never know what kind of evil our heroes will be battling next. With crime shows and police procedurals and such, you know there’s going to be a murder, there’s going to be investigating, questioning suspects, talking to the medical examiner, blah blah blah, and by the end of the episode the killer will have been caught and everything will be fine, only for some other poor sap to be creatively murdered in the next episode. It’s a formula that works, which is why so many shows have used it. But it starts to feel a bit stale after you’ve seen it a couple dozen times.

Through the five episodes of Sleepy Hollow that have aired so far, our heroes have already battled the Headless Horseman, a witch, and a faceless nightmare monster, they’ve stopped some evil cult dudes from opening a portal to hell that would unleash 72 evil demons (are there such things as good demons?), and in this week’s episode they prevented a creepy virus caused by the Horseman of Pestilence from wiping out the whole town of Sleepy Hollow. Not bad for a few weeks’ work.

sleepy hollow poster

You see what I’m getting at here? I love the variation of this show. Who knows what Lovecraftian horrors await our heroes next week? I find myself really looking forward to finding out every week, which is pretty important for serialized television.

There are also some really cool monster designs. This is important for a “Monster-of-the-Week” show. Take the Sandman from the third episode…

 sleepy-hollow-sandman

Gah! I wouldn’t want this dude haunting my dreams. He wouldn’t be out of place in a Guillermo Del Toro movie. (speaking of Uncle Guillermo, I watched Pacific Rim again last night and it was awesome. It’s on Blu-Ray now so go see it if you haven’t already. Seriously.)

So if you like cool, creepy monsters; fun, unpredictable stories; likable, engaging protagonists; and a healthy dose of unpredictability, then check out Sleepy Hollow and be thoroughly entertained. Unlike The Following, which was the last Fox show I watched (it sucked), Sleepy Hollow is actually really fun.

 sleepy hollow poster2

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a TV show or two to watch. There are some really good ones out there now.

Updates

Hello everyone, I just wanted to post a quick update. I don’t have anything particularly enlightening to say here, I just wanted to let you all know that I’ve added tags to most posts (that rhymed!) so you can click on them to see other posts with the same tag. I’m sure I didn’t need to explain that but whatevs.

I’m sure I forgot some but I like the sense of connectivity that the tags provide. It reminded me of other stuff I’ve written about, which was a fun little trip down memory lane. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up a lot, which kind of made me happy.

So, there’s that. Oh, and I also wanted to give a quick update on The Following, the dreadful Kevin Bacon show I wrote about a while ago. It hasn’t really changed much- the plots are still far-fetched, the storytelling lazy, the violence graphic (one poor lady got murdered with a speargun a couple episodes ago), and the FBI incompetent (I read one comment online that said “FBI” in The Following stands for “Fools Be Idiots,” which I thought was hilarious and also sadly true). But at least the show has managed some decent tension in recent episodes, even the plot twists don’t make any more sense than they used to.

I’ve also started to like Kevin Bacon more, he’s actually quite good in the role of a burned-out alcoholic (I’ll refrain from making real-life parallels here, since I know nothing whatsoever about Bacon’s personal life nor do I have any desire to find out. Just busting your chops, Kev).

I also re-watched Ralph Fiennes’ modern Shakespeare adaptation of Coriolanus recently, and I still thought it was quite good. What really struck me, aside from how intense Fiennes’ performance is, is how relevant the story is. I don’t remember if I touched on this in my original post, but it really struck me on re-watching it just how much sense the story makes in a modern context. The conflict the film presents makes a lot of sense in today’s political climate.

I then started thinking about other Shakespeare stories, and how applicable pretty much all of the stories are today. You really could make a modern adaptation of just about any Shakespeare play and it would still make sense. You’d have to change some things obviously, but you could still make it work. There was even a movie some years ago called “O” that I think was like a high-school version of Othello. I never saw it, but it exists. Joss Whedon also made a modern version of Much Ado About Nothing that comes out later this year, so that might be fun. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry is perfect casting, and it makes sense since Fillion and Whedon are old friends from their Firefly/Serenity days.

Anyway, that’s about it for now. A few updates and random thoughts are all I’ve got for the moment. I’m planning on seeing G.I. Joe Retaliation this weekend which I’m sure will be very silly and enjoyable so I’ll probably write about that next.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

Don’t Follow The Following, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bacon

If you watched any of the NFL playoffs on Fox over the past couple of weeks, you’ve been bombarded with ads for their new show “The Following,” starring Kevin Bacon as a retired FBI agent temporarily brought back to the field. I initially had no desire to watch this show, from the ads it looked more concerned with shock value than telling a good story. But wouldn’t you know that when I went on Hulu last week to watch my weekly episode of Castle (big Nathan Fillion fan), there was the pilot episode, so, against my better judgment, I watched it, and I watched the second episode this week as well.

It’s not very good. I don’t really know why I watched the second episode, since I wasn’t very impressed with the first one. I’ll probably watch the third episode next week.

But again, I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because I’m curious as to what fresh heights of absurdity the show will reach in the coming weeks.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, a retired FBI agent recalled to duty after the escape of Joe Carroll, an infamous serial killer. Ryan was the man who caught Carroll however many years ago, and he knows him better than anyone. Carroll has developed something of an obsession with Ryan, so the feds of course track Ryan down to help find Carroll. Ryan wrote a book about Carroll while he was in prison, and is now a drunk blah blah blah.

I’m sorry, I just lost interest in summarizing the plot. If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Every single element of this show’s plot has been done a million times before, and done better nine times out of ten.

Charismatic, calculating serial killer? Check.

Convoluted romantic entanglements? Check.

Houses with weird crap written all over the walls and bodies buried behind said walls? Check.

Lots of interrogation scenes that try really hard to be intense and mostly fail? Check.

Jaded, alcoholic ex-FBI guy brought back to track down the nutbag he caught because he knows him better than anyone else et cetera et cetera et cetera? Check, Check, Check.

It almost seems like the writers realize how clichéd all of this is, since they add a new wrinkle that they hope will differentiate the show from the many, many other films, books, TV shows etc. that it rips off. Serial killer Joe Carroll is a Charles Manson-like cult figure, who has inspired all kinds of fellow whack-jobs to join his demented cause. This is the “Following” of the title, but what it really amounts to is spectacularly lazy and cheap storytelling, since ANYONE COULD BE EVIL AT ANY TIME.

Take the first episode: the prison guard is evil, the friendly gay neighbors of Carroll’s escaped last victim are evil (and not gay…well, maybe one of them is), and the nanny of Joe’s son is evil. This, to me, feels incredibly lazy, since you can pretty much make someone evil whenever you want to in order to attempt to surprise people, logic be damned. It’s another cliché as well, since SO-AND-SO WAS ACTUALLY EVIL ALL ALONG has also been done before dozens of times.

It also completely muddles the plot, since whenever the show randomly makes someone evil, they spend a lot of time trying to explain why they’re evil. Much of the second episode was composed of showing the background for the evil nanny, who isn’t a very compelling character and is hard to care about in the first place. I really don’t care about why she’s evil. Another problem is that most of these explanations as to why people are randomly evil are pretty much going to have to turn out to be mostly the same anyway: they were seduced in one way or another by the smooth-talking, charismatic Joe, and that’s mostly it.

And speaking of Joe, man, what an amalgamation of clichés. He’s handsome and charismatic and smart and all that, and of course he’s also completely batshit crazy. Hannibal Lecter, anyone? He’s also a former English professor who’s obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe, and there are all kinds of ridiculous Poe references. When Ryan and his pals walk into the aforementioned house with crazy stuff written on the walls and NEVERMORE scrawled all over the place and they promptly, randomly find the body of the evil nanny’s dead mother in the wall, Ryan mumbles, “Classic Poe.” Um, okay.

Evil Joe is played by James Purefoy, a talented British actor I’ve liked in films I’ve seen him in, and he does what he can with what he’s given, which here isn’t very much. Maybe I’m being too harsh on this show based on just two episodes, but so far we haven’t really seen much to show why or how he could inspire such fanatical devotion in people. There are a lot of interrogation scenes between Joe and Ryan that all try to recapture the terrifying, magical intensity of the famous interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, and all of them fail. The acting is generally decent, though Bacon always seems a bit flat to me. But I’ve never been a member (or follower, if you will) of the Church of Bacon so maybe I’m biased.

The show also has an annoying tendency to over-rely on flashbacks to tell the story. There’s an annoyingly-placed flashback whenever the show feels like it needs to explain something, which distracts from the main plot and provides backstory that isn’t even very interesting in the first place. Ryan had an affair with Joe’s hot wife. Yawn. The evil nanny killed her mother. Boring. Joe is all charismatic and whatever. Is there something else on?

There’s also an inordinate amount of gruesome violence. I’m not usually one to talk about violence on television (my two favorite shows are Spartacus and The Walking Dead, for crying out loud, probably two of the goriest television programs of all time), but to me the violence in The Following feels designed to shock more than anything else. Bloody murder scenes, eyes gouged out, decaying corpses, people set on fire…it really seems like Fox is trying to show how cool and hip they are by showing all of this, but it really doesn’t have any impact past the initial shock. The fact that much of the violence is directed towards women provides an additionally sour taste.

The Following is a mess of clichés, lazy plotting, and occasional outbursts of graphic violence. So why am I watching it? I don’t really know. I suppose part of me is curious to see how all of this nonsense plays out, and there’s always the (admittedly slim) chance that the show will eventually manage to pull its head out of its ass, but for now I’m in just to see how dumb things will get. To give you an example, the second episode ends with a man dressed in a stupid-looking Poe mask walking up to a random dude in public and lighting him on fire, then walking away as nobody tries to stop him. I can’t wait to see how this ties in to evil Joe’s master plan.

I read a comment online on a review about this show that summed up its logic thusly: “2+2 =5. OMG IN THE HOUSE!!!” That about sums it up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie (or TV show) to watch.