‘Sleepy Hollow’ Hit The Reset Button With Its Season Premiere, But Did It Work?

When Sleepy Hollow premiered on Fox back in 2013, it was a hit right out of the gate. Just three episodes in, the network jumped at ordering more episodes of the horror-fantasy series that enjoyably melded colonial history into its engaging and often outlandish mythology. The series came with big names attached, including TV vets Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci as series creators alongside Underworld mastermind Len Wiseman and a new guy no one had ever heard of by the name of Phillip Iscove.

Up until 2012, Iscove worked as an agent’s assistant at United Talent Agency. During his time at the company, the Canadian writer penned five TV pilots and two features. It was just before his work visa expired that year that he sold his first pilot, a modern take on the Washington Irving classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It wasn’t too long after that images of a Headless Horseman firing off an automatic weapon began circulating on TV screens across the country.

The show quickly bred a fandom that found stars Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane) and Nicole Beharie (Abbie Mills) bombarded with crowds of adoring followers at San Diego Comic-Con later that year. Equal parts humor, action, dark fantasy, and schlocky horror, Fox found itself basking in the glory of its newest hit. And then, a year later, the luster began to fade. Spoilers below!

Throughout the show’s sophomore season, the story became partitioned as the show introduced secondary characters and complicated plot points. With the reveal of the Headless Horseman’s identity — and his convoluted love story with Ichabod’s witch wife Katrina — the overall mystery dissipated, leaving in its wake an increasingly complicated soap opera focused more on its deepening mythology than on the mission and chemistry of its two main characters.

It was toward the end of season two that my interest waned, leaving zero desire to return to new episodes. Then, earlier in the year, Fox announced Clifton Campbell (The Glades, White Collar) would be taking over as showrunner and issued a promise that the show would return to its fun and over-the-top roots. And after watching last night’s season three premiere, “I, Witness,” it’s evident that they’re staying true to their promise.

The story picks up nine months after the events that transpired in last year’s finale. Abbie and Ichabod have split up to lead their own separate lives, which finds Abbie now working for the FBI and Ichabod locked up in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. The reaction of our heroes as they reunited felt as if it were mirroring the reluctance of the show’s fans. Of course Crane has come to Mills with a new deliciously demonic case to investigate, marking the beginning of this season’s “second tribulation,” but the FBI agent’s hesitance brought with it a welcome conflict with all the glorious quirks that harkened back to the enjoyable tone of earlier episodes.

Although the multitude of secondary characters have not returned to the series — Henry Parrish, Katrina, Moloch, Hawley, Irving, and Captain Reyes, to be specific — a few new interesting ones have been thrown into the mix here. Shannyn Sossamon joins the series as its new big bad Pandora, taking out the Headless Horseman with a mere flick of the wrist in the first five minutes of the episode. The audience also got a glimpse of a younger, hotter, kick-ass version of Betsy Ross (Nikki Reed) with whom Ichabod has a sordid past. It’s uncertain, as of yet, how this character will fit into the overall story this season but my hope is she won’t get stuck in the similar story traps that led to Katrina being one of the least likable characters from the first two seasons.

Another notable character — which felt more-so like a cameo — was C. Thomas Howell’s appearance as Abbie’s new FBI boss. Their relationship recalled Mills’ deep-seated connection to Clancy Brown’s Sheriff Corbin and felt like one more detail helping to reboot the story in its new year. And then there’s the quirky young forensic specialist Dani (Alex Sgambati) who became immediately enthralled with Ichabod upon first laying eyes on him. Something tells me, this side character will provide some humorous exchanges with Crane down the line.

The premiere trimmed the fat and brought a new story arc to Sleepy Hollow, but the main strength of the series still lies with Beharie and Mison. Their chemistry jumped off the screen when the show premiered three years ago, and it’s a welcome rapport that has existed throughout every episode. It’s obvious their characters care for each other and their mutual respect remains a constant even amidst the sibling-like bickering. It’s that emotional connection that should succeed at bringing jaded fans back to the series for this new go-round.

As for this week’s monster, we’re introduced to a red-bodied demon who is attracted to the scent of gunpowder. It’s a weak storyline and ends up falling into the background along with an ongoing FBI investigation in which Abbie’s is involved. While neither storyline feels important, these details help in once again introducing the evil backdrop in which our two Witnesses live.

With a finger firmly set on the reset button, last night’s episode delivered a necessarily simple story while simultaneously kicking old baggage to the wayside. If “I, Witness” is a sign of things to come, it looks like the program has realigned its priorities and will be bringing some bloody good fun to Thursday nights this year.