Bottom line: I thought Gotham was great, but Sleepy Hollow was excellent.
You've probably already read what Gotham is about: it's basically the Batman version of Smallville, where we're going to see Catwoman and Penguin and the Riddler and Bruce Wayne before they become villains/dark heroes, and the final episode of the series will no doubt see Batman suit up for the first time (if Fox lets the show get that far). There's nothing subtle about the show — Penguin's mentor-turned-enemy is named Fish (played by Jada Pinkett-Smith, who I really liked in the role), so we know that will end badly; little Ivy's dad is the most poisonous father you could imagine; the Riddler is named E. Nigma (no, really) and works at the police station — but that's okay, because this stuff was never meant to be subtle. The acting is quite good, and where the cops are usually the dull side of comics, I thought the casting of Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue as the good cop/bad cop detectives is a stroke of genius, because I was as interested in them as all of the creepy characters running around. The most fun to watch is Robin Lord Taylor (also the best name of any of the actors), who plays the Penguin. When Fish Mooney figures out he betrayed her, she beats his legs, and in the next scene you see him doing the creepy penguin waddle that we assume will never go away. (The little prosthetic they put on the actor's nose to make it oh-so-subtly pointy is well done, too.) I thought he was wonderful. As is the boy who plays Bruce Wayne himself. Casting kids is a dicey business. As we saw on Lost, they grow up quickly, so you have to be careful that the storyline moves along at the same pace as the child's aging. But there's also the worry that the kid won't be effective. Henry on Once Upon a Time was cute in the beginning, and just became stilted and whiny a season or two later. But this kid seems mature, as if he's playing younger than he is (which is good) and has that glowering look of hatred in his eyes that runs so deep, you just know he'll eventually be donning black spandex and beating the crap out of bad guys in a low, growly voice.
Over on Sleepy Hollow, we open with what this series does best: show what a fish out of water Ichabod Crane still is in our 21st century. We think he's still in the pine box, calling out for the lieutenant out of fear for himself and her, but in fact he's in a dark room because she's about to surprise him with a birthday cupcake. And poof, we're one year after the incident, and I guess the escape was going to be too boring and since we KNOW they're going to make it, maybe this is a clever way to do it? (The writers want you to be confused at this point, and it works.) The scene is glorious, from the fact that Abbie went with a red white and blue motif on the cupcake (ha!) to his astonishment and bafflement at our weird traditions. "Why does your era celebrate terror with dessert?" he asks after she has left him in a dark and stormy room and then suddenly flipped on a light switch and yelled surprise at him. When she explains the tradition, he says in his stilted "I'm trying to be cool" way, "I shall consider myself punk'd." LOL!
Ichabod: So what, you just stare at it?
Abbie: You blow it out, you make a wish.
Ichabod: A wish.
Abbie: Another... modern tradition.
Ichabod: And here I thought science had won over superstition in modern America. Fine. I wish...
Abbie: Not out loud...
Ichabod: Is there no end to this birthday madness?!
Oh Ichabod. How I have MISSED you!!
For the first 15 minutes, they continue to play out this present-day/we've already been saved scenario: if we assume this show is in the present, and several months have passed in our time, those same months have passed in theirs as well. They presumably got out of the coffin/purgatory back in January/February at some point and have been having adventures, and we're joining them in September, where they will inevitably flash back to show us what happened in the past. Throughout this first 15 minutes I enjoyed the action immensely, as they broke into an office and battled the Headless Horseman, etc., but I kept wondering how exactly they got out of their fixes. They go to see the Sin Eater Henry (Ichabod Junior) and he makes a comment about how even though he's using artificial sunlight on his plants, they don't seem to know the difference and will believe what they're told. And I thought, "Hold on... wait a..." and immediately after, we discover this was all an elaborate trick, they're still in purgatory/coffin, and they've been punk'd for reals. Amazing.
Of course, there's a key and they get out of the coffin and purgatory and manage to keep Moloch in but he's raising an army of evil dead and Jenny's still alive and Headless Horseman Abraham has Katrina and he's being skeezy with her and Henry apologizes to Moloch but Moloch has other plans and introduces Headless Horseman #2 — WAR — and Henry gets to control him like one of the guys controlling the robots in Real Steel (now I just want to see two Headless Horsemen playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em) and Abbie declares war on everything.
So, the usual awesomeness.
But there are so many other highlights throughout, usually by the brilliant Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod with such arrogant charm and yet complete bafflement that I can't imagine anyone else pulling off this role.
- Benjamin Franklin is played by Timothy Busfield, who is always amazing in any role. The first time we see him, he's entirely in the nude, and Ichabod shows his disgust with an exaggerated eye roll, making the scene even more hilarious. We see instantly why Ichabod didn't like him, but as Abbie points out, they're pretty much equal when it comes to arrogance.
- How many more times he seems to have said "Leff-tenant," especially now that it's been established as the key part of a viewing drinking game (and that that would be her one way of figuring out the fake Ichabod was indeed a fake!)
- Ichabod's surprise that Harvard (a university that was established before the American Revolution, as were most of the Ivy League schools) still exists.
- Aside from the cupcake moment, my favourite scene is Ichabod, about to blow up the coffin and possibly killing himself in the process, deciding to use this newfangled technology in his pocket and leave one last message for his dear friend Abbie on his camera phone: "If I die, Lieutenant, I want you to know that I never stopped fighting... [phone suddenly says MEMORY FULL] ... AND none of that recorded." HAHAHAHA!