As Hollywood grapples with ways to water down genre films, specifically to appeal to a mass audience who will in turn become bored by the pandering and sink potential billion dollar franchises in Titanic fashion, in walks Network Television (and what i like to call Graphic Novellas for TV). With Fox’s Suburban Gothic series ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ABC’s Super-Spy show, Marvel’s ‘Agents of Shield,’ things are shifting.
The unfortunate misunderstanding of genre shows, is that their mass appeal can be predicted based on the amount of special-effects and big-name stars. I personally feel the truth lies in the stories themselves. Sleepy Hollow gets a healthy update to the 21st century and like a 90’s Graphic Novel, its not just updated, it is filtered through the prism of everything from social issues of the day to popular movies and art.
The short story that started it all was published in 1820. Washington Irving’s, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’, being one of the first pieces of truly American literature, is also important in the ancestry of genre movies and TV shows.
Our story begins in the middle of a bloody battle in Hudson Valley, New York in 1781. This version of Ichabod Crane, (Tom Mison) is a British defector. Now fighting for the rebels, he is warned of impending doom while tending to a fallen soldier. He turns and sees a massive, masked Red Coat rider bearing down on him, riding a pale white horse. Ichabod fires his pistol, the rider is hit and falls, only to jump up again. Their duel is short but brutal and Ichabod is mortally wounded but not before beheading his seemingly inhuman assailant. Fast forward to the present, and we find Ichabod awakening in a cave filled with strange artifacts. Climbing from the depths, he is then nearly run over twice on a strip of road, first by a truck, then by a car. Looking at the vehicles, he realizes something is terribly wrong.
Across the town at a local diner, while the Rolling Stones ‘Sympathy For the Devil’ plays on a nearby jukebox, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and mentor friend Sheriff August Corbin (played by the always awesome Clancy Brown) are talking about her pending position at the FBI and her real reasons for wanting to leave small-town life. Interrupted by a call to a local farm, they are confronted by a grisly murder and the Headless Red coat assassin. The Headless horseman in this incarnation is ‘no joke’. This headless specter on a white horse is given an impressive re-boot. A great-great granddad of The Terminator, he is relentless and his appropriation of modern weapons is true horror. Eventually after much trepidation, Ichabod and Abbie accept their fates. Ichabod’s has his last memory of the time with his wife Katrina tending his wounds, trying to give him a message. Abbie and her estranged sister were involved in a mysterious incident as children that scarred them both in different ways. Their destinies are intertwined and though their subsequent collaboration takes the show in an improbable CSI direction, with Orlando Jones as Abbies’s baffled captain. The creative team here, an interesting collaboration of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Spider-man re-boot screenwriters) and Underworld director, Len Wiseman, drops hints of things to come, things like The Apocalypse, warring Covens and Headless terminators. It means small-time life just got A LOT more interesting.
Meanwhile over at ABC, Joss Whedon’s return to Network TV with Agents of Shield, is equally impressive. Whedonites like myself know how he and his peeps take their time to introduce characters, and set up story arcs that sometimes don’t come to fruition until seasons later. However I also have to stress to my Whedonite brotha and sistahren that the 90s are over. We are a couple years into a New Century and times have changed since Firefly. What does that mean?
The Avengers made billions, Whedon is no longer just ours anymore. So with great power comes great responsibility. Whedon, assisted by brother Jed and Maurissa Tancharoen, must tie together a show about Marvel’s super-spy ‘Men in Black,’ with the overall movie universe and make it sexy and compelling enough for comic geeks, fans of just movies, and folks who aren’t necessarily fans of either. How do you do that? Carefully. In geek-speak, think of this as issue #1.
After the ‘Battle of New York’, the world is a different place, Aliens, Super-soldiers and Gods are no longer myths. Through the eyes of hacker/activist Skye (Chloe Bennet) we see first hand this strange New World, when she records an extraordinary feat on her camera phone. Out of work Hardhat (played by ‘Angel’ alum J. August Wilson) saves a woman from a burning building. When Shield gets hold of the now viral video, they suspect it as a call out to them from the Hacker group Red Tide. A mobile unit is initiated, with the now back in action Agent Coulson (Clark Greg reprising this role). This brings together the motley crue of Agents. This includes Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), reluctant to go in the field, but an ace pilot and weapons expert. Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) is black-ops and a God and country type with a dark past. Leo Fitz (Ian DeCaestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are the science geeks who deal in engineering and biological mysteries. Rounding out the unit is Skye, who Coulson sees as an asset given her skills and connections to the Hacker community. The show seems measured in its beginning, but I believe we’ll be off to the races by the next episode.
Given the ongoing threats of what is going on with nuclear waste near Japan, rumors of wars, government shutdowns, Sleepy Hollow’s Gothic end-game, and Marvel’s Agents of Shield ‘Bond meets X-files’, this is the perfect time for American doom-saying and paranoia. So keep calm while the American Empire crumbles around us. These shows won’t solve our problems, but they at least give us two, 45 min spots on TV to ease the pain.