First, let’s make one thing clear: I love Sleepy Hollow. I love its bonkers kitchen-sink sensibility, and its genuinely scary, tactile, non-computer-generated monsters, and its strong, diverse ensemble, and, most importantly, its delightfully daffy sense of humor.
That being said…
Sleepy shocked everyone when it debuted to huge ratings last year, attracting nearly 14 million viewers and becoming the first new show to be renewed for a second season. Yet that second season—which promised to be bigger, better, and in every way more epic than the first—has struggled to replicate season 1’s success. Ratings are down across the board; last night’s episode drew just 4.6 million viewers and a 1.5 demo rating, matching the series low set the previous week. Meanwhile, comment boards are filled with grumbling fans complaining that this year just doesn’t pack the same punch as last year. And while I do think many of those complaints are overstated, it’s hard to deny that while it’s still eminently entertaining, this series is in a bit of a rut.
What could it do to blast itself out of that rut, preferably via coffin-powered dirt explosion? Here are six ideas:
1. Solve the Katrina Problem
Creating a supernatural dramedy that features not one (Nicole Beharie’s Abbie), not two (Lyndie Greenwood’s Jenny), but three compelling female leads? A great idea! Except that even after a season and a half, the show still doesn’t quite know what to do with the third member of the trifecta.
Katrina (Katia Winter) spent season 1 trapped in Purgatory, functioning more as an exposition machine than an actual character. Sleepy finally set her free from that prison in the finale… only to immediately put her in need of saving once again. Eight episodes of season 2 have aired so far; three of them have revolved around rescuing Katrina from one threat or another. It’s a disappointing state of affairs, especially since Katrina is supposedly more than a damsel in distress: As we’ve been told over and over again, she’s also an extremely powerful witch. The problem? We’ve still never seen her do any magic more impressive than a simple location spell—and when she has attempted to up the ante, as in last night’s episode, she’s ended up getting in over her head, forcing Abbie to save her ass yet again.
So, how do you solve a problem like Katrina? Sleepy can start by keeping her out of mortal peril for a good, long while—then put its cursed coins where its mouth is by actually showing Katrina use her much-discussed magical abilities. It’d also help if she, like her husband, had more opportunities to show off a sense of humor. That cold open in which she and Ichabod (Tom Mison) sat transfixed by a Bachelor-esque reality show? Delightful! Let’s get more of that, please.
2. Get the band back together
Season 1 ended with Sleepy’s central troupe of heroes scattered to the four winds. Ichabod had been buried alive; Abbie was stuck in Purgatory; Jenny was lying nearly dead on the side of the road; Captain Irving (Orlando Jones) was being arrested for murders he didn’t commit. And though Jenny and Abbie soon escaped their predicaments, the group still seems fractured two months later. Jenny’s been MIA for weeks now; Irving’s still stuck in Tarrytown Psych, getting only occasional flashes of screen time. Even the group’s newest addition, roguish treasure hunter Nick Hawley (Matt Barr), still isn’t an official member of the Scooby Gang. If Ichabod and Abbie are going to save the world, they’re gonna need all the help they can get—and if Sleepy wants to build a show that isn’t resting solely on Ichabod and Abbie’s shoulders (and it should), it’s got to find a way to get these people in a room together once again.
3. Stop murdering everyone
On a similar note: Sleepy tends to kill off tertiary characters (Caroline the Revolutionary War Reenactor, season 1’s creepy/cool Masons, Reverend Knapp the badass Warlock) just when they’re getting interesting. That’s a shame, because a show with a mythology as dense as Sleepy’s deserves to have a stable of characters that’s just as rich and rewarding. And this won’t happen if the writers can’t occasionally quiet their bloodlust. Let the town of Sleepy Hollow itself grow bigger and more dynamic organically, and those foundations will pay dividends in the future.
4. Don’t make Henry the root of all evil
Season 2 has a well-defined Big Bad: Henry Parish, a.k.a. Jeremy Crane, a.k.a. the Horseman of War, a.k.a. John Noble. And Noble’s great in the part—but even so, it’s getting tiresome to learn that he’s the force behind every single beast or evil artifact that’s driven the action this year. As a commenter wrote in one of my recaps, it’s starting to feel as though Ichabod and Abbie are just playing Whack-a-Mole with Henry’s rogue’s gallery.
The solution: Step back from this established formula and unleash some monsters that have nothing to do with Henry. (Or go for an episode that focuses more on world-building and master plot propulsion than bad guys that appear and disappear within one hour.) This wouldn’t necessarily mean putting Henry entirely in the background; in Buffy’s third season, for example, the show seamlessly integrated monster-of-the-week plots with scenes showing the evil Mayor’s gradual rise to power. Sleepy could do well to follow that example.
5. Trust your audience
Sleepy has a bad habit of assuming viewers can’t or won’t remember the things we’ve just seen; episodes feature copious flashbacks to stuff that happened last week (or even earlier in the same hour), and characters often find themselves discussing the same topics over and over again (can Henry be redeemed? Can Ichabod learn to trust Katrina once more?). Psst, Sleepy: We know you’re smart. Kindly return the favor, and assume we’ve been following closely enough to understand what the hell is going on.
6. Bring back Zombie John Cho
At least it’d mean a silver lining to this. Viva Cho!