So here’s Tuesday’s post-Sleepy Hollow premiere discussion (WARNING: spoilers below):
As always, the show had some really funny parts. Crane on Birthday’s is amusing, but his car-driving skills need work! I really enjoy the playful bickering and banter between all the characters. The writers are fantastic at getting the chemistry and language between them just right, and that is important in keeping the audience’s attention. And of course you have to love both Tom Mison and Nikki Beharie. Lyndie Greenwood kicks major butt. John Noble’s sinister grin and his character’s bluff at the beginning were all well executed. From an acting and humor standpoint, the show was (and has been) extremely successful. It is one of the reasons I absolutely love the show.
From the standpoint of a historian looking at the portrayal of history, however, the show continues as a tragedy. The most problematic bit of history was the presence of Benjamin Franklin doing the electricity experiment post 1775 (since he actually conducted the experiment in 1752–no pun intended). In the show, however, this experiment would have taken place sometime later than the outbreak of the Revolution. If you go back through my article on Sleepy Hollow, Crane could not have turned coat and joined the Americans until sometime in 1778 (because of Tarleton’s rank in the show was ‘Colonel’, and he did not achieve that rank until 1778).
So they legitimately portray Franklin, in a field (the actual experiment was in the Christ Church spire in Philadelphia) post 1778, which would be hard since, you know, he was in Paris at the time negotiating the alliance and a treaty. He would live there for nine years and would not return to the United States until 1785, and by that time Crane was already in the ground (he went into the ground in 1781). So, no, there is no way Crane could have apprenticed under Franklin after his turn or anytime after. It boggles the mind.
What is more infuriating for me, perhaps, is the claims that the producers read “biographies” on Franklin (emphasis added):
[E]xecutive producer Mark Goffman. “This season, we’re continuing that and expanding on it with other characters. Benjamin Franklin is great because we are all familiar with so many of his contributions and now we get to pull back the veil a bit. This man founded the printing press and was responsible for so many [innovations] and now we find out he’s involved in this secret war and that Crane had a relationship with him. I’ve read several biographies of Franklin and we’re teeing off on some of his precociousness and eccentricities.”
Apparently Mr. Goffman didn’t know Franklin wrote his own autobiography, as he seems to ignore it completely. In either case, somehow despite reading “several biographies”, Mr. Goffman and all the writers missed his nine year hiatus in France during that crucial time when Crane was in America (and had turned coat). And there can be no doubt that Franklin indeed was speaking with Crane post 1778, since he called Crane “one of us, an American”. So did they actually bother reading about Franklin or, conversely, did they just stop after the introduction of each biography? Either way, this does not bode well for the historical details to follow.
Like before, it seems like the writers and producers want Crane’s hand in all the historical pudding. But that’s insane. They could have just as easily had Crane discussing what he had read about Franklin’s experiment, or that he overheard Washington talking about it, without him ever needing to “meet” Franklin in person. As a professor as Oxford, certainly he might have read Franklin’s published letters on electricity well before joining the army. History doesn’t have to be broken to fit into a plot, and the sooner Hollywood understands that, the better we’re all be with shows like this.
Each Tuesday I will post a review of the historical content if applicable. Stay tuned.
Edit: After writing this I realized we could all (especially the writers and producers) benefit from a timeline. Maybe this will help explain how terrible the inconsistency has been with the show, from their own internal history (plot line) and with external history (actual history). So here it is. Click to embiggen.