#AbbieMillsDeservesBetter: How Fox Ruined “Sleepy Hollow”

7
7606
Image from The Visibility Project.

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Sleepy Hollow. 

When Fox announced the development of Sleepy Hollow, a supernatural drama featuring Ichabod Crane waking up in modern day America and joining forces to fight the headless horseman and other magical villains, most reactions ranged from eye rolls to bemusement. It seemed destined to be a one season wonder cancelled after 5 or 6 episodes. That it became a critical hit and fan favourite spoke volumes to the creativity and passion of the cast and crew.

It had the perfect combination of elements to make for a fandom friendly show – handsome British lead paired with a kick-ass woman of colour detective, top notch chemistry between the two, a well-managed and consistent tone, self-aware yet no less dedicated to the story at hand, an inclusive ensemble and an intriguing narrative with fun procedural elements. Fans latched onto the series in its first season, and even cast member Orlando Jones joined in on the fun, actively engaging with the community, offering hilarious commentary and even asking for fanfiction recommendations. This highly appealing combination of content, fandom and show-viewer relations is a lightning in a bottle phenomenon, creating the kind of excitement and goodwill most shows can only dream of.

So of course they fucked it up.

Suddenly with season 2, the show shifted its focus from Abbie to Ichabod and his family issues, ostensibly forcing the lead of the show and the character the fans liked the most into a supporting role. Her role, and that of the people of colour in supporting positions, became increasingly marginalised as the season progressed. The undeniable chemistry between Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, which on any other show would lead to a romantic subplot, was entirely ignored. Eventually, these tensions moved to the real world, with Beharie not even being invited to record the commentary for the series DVD. It seemed as if the expected network meddling combined with a new showrunner led to the complete squandering of a wonderful show.

The absolute cock-up that occurred from season 2 onwards – which led to Orlando Jones being asked to leave and having absolutely no chill about the ongoing developments – isn’t a new phenomenon with TV. The sophomore slump is almost a trademark of the business. Yet here it was particularly egregious because of the way race played a part.

The heroine of Sleepy Hollow is a dark skinned black woman who’s independent, sharp, determined and clearly the most qualified person in the room at any given time. The white male character proudly followed her lead, respected her authority and understood his boundaries, and their chemistry was palpable. This is a dynamic most showrunners would kill for, and I guarantee that if Nicole Beharie had been white, things would have gone down a very different route. As it was, what we ended up with was a stream of episodes focused on Ichabod’s wife, who was nowhere near as interesting or necessary to the show, but was white, while Abbie was left to do nothing.

Abbie and Ichabod’s relationship was equal parts Mulder & Scully and screwball comedy; a luminous pairing with sparks of chemistry that left fanfiction writers with fuel for many a story. Fans responded to the shafting of Abbie’s role with a Twitter campaign, #AbbieMillsDeservesBetter. How did the show react? By passive-aggressively including that very line in an episode, indicating that they did indeed know of fans’ frustrations, but didn’t really care enough to truly engage with them. Seeing an interracial romance on screen, one built on mutual trust and respect, would have been incredible, yet the showrunners seemed to go out of their way to avoid it, and it’s hard to look at the hoop jumping they engaged in without thinking there’s some element of racism behind it. You can almost hear the network notes screaming about the need for more white male viewers.

As you may now know, season 3 wrapped up with Abbie sacrificing herself for a greater cause. Nicole Beharie’s desire to leave the show is no surprise given the way she’s been treated, yet it still stings to see Abbie’s ending be yet another woman of colour throwing herself on the sword to further the white man’s narrative. Abbie Mills had moved from the lead to a sidekick long ago, but to see her fridged was truly salt on an already painful wound.

There’s no Sleepy Hollow without Lt. Abbie Mills. The heart and soul of the show was stripped out as part of some desperate attempt to appeal to an audience they didn’t need and who didn’t want to be there. Some demographics are more valuable than others to networks like Fox, and clearly young women, primarily women of colour, just weren’t good enough for them. It’s possible showrunners genuinely didn’t know what made season 1 so good, which is depressing in and of itself, but when one of the writers declares glibly that “sometimes minority characters die on shows because they’re characters, not because they’re minorities”, you really can’t ignore the possibility that they’re all too aware of what’s going on.

One can’t help but wonder what the show would have been like in the hands of Shonda Rhimes or Bryan Fuller, creatives who understand that fans aren’t an arbitrary concept they can create from thin air. It would have been wonderful to see a Sleepy Hollow where supernatural procedural mixed with screwball rom-com, where Abbie Mills was wooed and courted by the man who clearly adored her, and where her story got to be the story of the show. Alas, we’ll just get another ten shows about tortured straight white men fighting crime. Abbie wasn’t the only one who deserved better – audiences did too.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Glad I stopped watching after season 1, shame though. This show had so much promise.

    If you think Shonda Rhimes is someone who respects fans or writes women of color well you haven’t been watching very closely. A week doesn’t go by on Scandal that some pointless white secondary character isn’t calling Olivia a whore, or where we’re exploring the background of another pointless white secondary character on what is supposed to “Olivia’s Journey”. Shonda doesn’t even accept questions or criticism from her actors. She told Tony that she doesn’t tell him how to act when he was having problems with her characterization and she couldn’t even be bothered to respond to Kerry’s queries (both have said this in interviews)Any fan who has tweeted constructive criticism has been told not to watch. Consequently she has managed to lose 50% of her target demo and almost 50% of total numbers in a season.

  2. I would love to see Nicole Beharie work with Bryan Fuller, that would be awesome. Not only did SH writers kill off Abbie, one of the two main characters, they reduced her entire role to merely a prop to further Crane’s development. By the end of the show he’s already looking for her replacement.
    I can’t believe they think they have a future without her.

  3. I agree with everything you said except for the Shonda Rhimes reference because shonda does not write for her fans and she wouldve done worse to the Abbie Mills character than SH writers aka the degradation of the Olivia Pope character which scandal fans have been prostesting for years.

  4. The Sleepy Hollw finale of ruined my favorite tv pair Abbie and Crane (Nicole &Tom) and left me livid. But then of course we must remind ourselves that this is FOX and they would have no problem getting rid of the leading lady of a popular tv series who happens to be black in order to build the show and make it all about Tom..the white guy.

  5. srsly? You think Hannibal had some truly diverse cast that was treated super respectfully, cause they a French Canadian (Quebecois) actress (Caroline Dharvnas) been in another Bryan Fuller show too. Or Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus on Matrix, Boyz N The Hood, Pops Johnson, aka Dre’s dad on black-ish, etc) and one Korean-American (Hettienne Park)?

    that’s more than some shows, definite improvement on Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies comedy (think I saw one POC in the 2 or 3 years it lasted).

    pretty sure you can way more diverse casts on ABC (Fresh Off The Boast, black-ish, Family Feud and at least 2 other Steve Harvey hosted shows), CBS (Rush Hour, Amazing Race, Hawaii 5-0, the Grammys), CW (Legends of Tomorrow, Flash, reruns of Meet The Browns). NBC (The Wiz Live was frigging record setting, amazing as frick) even Fox wasn’t dumb enough to cancel Empire (just confirmed they renewed that for season 3).

    heck PBS has some amazingly diverse kids shows, animated + live action series (Daniel Tiger, Wild Krattz, Sid The Science Kid, Odd Squad, Sesame Street, Arthur, Curious George, Word Girl, Bob The Builder, GlobeTrekker, Peg + Cat, Dinosaur Train regularly talks about adoption + blended families with the aid of singing dinos, DragonTales, Olivia, Maya & Miguel, etc.)

    still wish Sagwa cartoon was on, that was my fave a kid. My nephews don’t seem to share the same fondness for cats or want to learn about Chinese languages and culture. Ni-Hao Kai-Lan didn’t hold their interest either.

  6. Though I understand and an disgusted with how the writers and network retreated NB on her own show. Can we please have just one person writer about how KW was also badly treated. Granted KW is not POC or the lead. But she too was promised a fully realised character. Once they had decided to keep her character alive. I’ve seen interviews were she talks about the writers promising her character ‘potential’ that the ‘powerful witch’ will soon join Team Witness. What happened? She was thrown in between two dogs like a sacrifice. The dogs being Henry and Abraham, since huddy was too busy playing stupid. I’ve seen racist slurs from both sides. And I blame the writers for antagonising the whole situation with ship wars. If they wanted Ichabbie, they should have stopped Ichatrina before a small number settled on them. Did they think giving Ichabod a wife would stop people from shipping him with Abbie? Please not with Ichabod spending a full season craving by words to reunite with his wife, while his expressions craving his partner. That only made him seem pathetic with loose morales.
    Yes I’ve seen the racist abuse hurled at NB. But what about the cruel rumours started NB fans that ‘KW slept her way to the top position. That she lacked chemistry or was throwing shades at NB because she was friends with GL.’ (Yes they did turn racist but I’m not going to repeat them to make a point) So many jibes and taunts that the poor girl had to apologise on Twitter for her characters lack of action and judgement. This was after she gave interviews in the beginning with hope and excitement for her characters development. Most of the scenes she was talking about never made it too screen.

    I’m not trying to make this into NB vs KW. But every post I see is about how the show did wrong by NB, TM, OJ, GL, NJ, JN. And deliberately miss out KW, as if she wasn’t put through hell in S2 either, as if she was the only one to get a bag of gold at the end of it all. The show conveniently forgot the actress appeared on the show as do the fans. (Let’s be honest, it was easy to blame her for everything in S2 because despite how much you deny it, you wanted Ichabbie and married that was not possible without tainting the leads) all you have to do is look back using tags on Twitter or tumblr. NB fans and Ichabbie fans are now joined with the Ichatrina fans on the hashtag ‘cancelsleepyhollow’

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here