'Sleepy Hollow': One of fall TV's most unexpected successes

'Sleepy Hollow,' the Fox show based on Washington Irving's story, is getting great ratings and is already renewed for a second season. What's drawing in viewers?

Brownie Harris/Fox/AP
'Sleepy Hollow' stars Nicole Beharie (l.) and Tom Mison (r.).

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for our print magazine about the amount of fantasy and sci-fi titles that were premiering on TV this fall season.

The large number of new shows that were centered around an out-of-this-world element was surprising because those shows are costly (lots of effects, usually) and shows that launch with a lot of backstory and mythology to keep track of can turn off viewers. For every “Lost” and “Once Upon a Time” that do well in the ratings, there are many other fantasy and sci-fi shows that fall flat.

And one of the programs that seemed least likely to make a splash was Fox’s new show “Sleepy Hollow,” centering around – well, you know the story. Ichabod Crane sees a headless horseman in the title town.

But “Hollow” has become one of the surprise hits of the fall – when it premiered, the show got such good ratings that it became the highest-rated Fox series premiere for a drama in the fall in six years, and it’s already been renewed for a second season.

So what got viewers hooked? The show is a little different than the legend you may remember from middle school English class. In this version, Ichabod was a Revolutionary War soldier who returns to life in present-day Sleepy Hollow after the Headless Horseman (who is actually one of the Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen) is brought back from the dead by… someone. Once the Headless Horseman begins killing people, Ichabod begins to work with Lieutenant Abbie Mills of the local police force in an attempt to stop him and protect the people of Sleepy Hollow from supernatural forces.

And according to many critics, this set-up means there’s something for just about everyone. According to Hollywood Reporter writer Tim Goodman, “Hollow” is “fun, it’s entertaining, it’s got some scares and some action and plenty of secrets to unveil.”

“What makes Sleepy Hollow immediately likable is Mison’s Ichabod Crane, who is confused about the modern world moments, and the relationship he shares with Sleepy Hollow police officer Abbie,” Goodman wrote. “When things get ever-more outrageous, they also get ever-more fun.”

Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara agreed, calling the show “great fun.”

“[There’s] strong performances from both leads… [and] several nicely creepy story lines, some terrific CG action,” she wrote.

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