‘Sleepy Hollow’: a Fun and Madcap Spin on a Spooky Tale

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There were already three decapitations within the first ten minutes of the series premiere of Sleepy Hollow last night, and viewers most likely lost count for the rest of the episode. Would Fox really be able to carry on a few episodes—let alone a whole season—about a headless horseman who lobs off the heads of townsfolk? Come on, we know everything there is to know about Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Right?

Well, they proved us wrong. Apparently, the tale involves time travel, witchcraft, and the apocalypse—and takes place in the modern day.

Sleepy Hollow is a reimagined look at the gothic short story from 1820 and barely resembles the original tale except for the main characters being Ichabod Crane, portrayed by the talented Tom Mison (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Venus), and the headless horseman. The new Ichabod is a dashing Brit who serves as sort of a fringe detective with a passion for righteousness—which is far from the Dumbo-eared milquetoast Disney went for with their 1949 short. See below for a comparison.

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Instead of being a meek schoolteacher, Ichabod is a former Redcoat of the Revolutionary War; he deflects and joins George Washington as his secret agent. After taking orders to slice off the head of a gnarly-looking Redcoat riding a horse during a fight, he loses consciousness and wakes up in the 21st century in Sleepy Hollow, a woodsy town in New York. Cars are novel to him, he quips about all the Starbucks in the area, and can’t quite figure out why women started wearing trousers. Think less M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and more Hugh Jackman in Kate and Leopold. His character is surprisingly endearing once you resign yourself to the cheesiness of it. There’s a campy feel to the show and it is being compared to something along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (although the dialogue hasn’t proved to be as witty as the lines spewed by Joss Whedon’s characters yet).

Clancy Brown—an actor in The Shawshank Redemption and the voice of Mr. Krabs on SpongeBob SquarePants (!)—makes a cameo in the opening moments of the show as the town’s sheriff who gets beheaded by the headless horseman, thus setting in motion an investigation by the law enforcement for his murder. Of course, Ichabod gets confused for his 18th century garb for the headless horseman and gets arrested. He meets the sheriff’s close partner, Lt. Abbie Mills—portrayed by Nicole Beharie (42)— and they form a bond because she begins to believe his crackpot-sounding stories. They are both the odd men out. Nobody else on the force listens to Abbie when she points out that all the decapitations have left cauterized wounds. She has a little more at stake since she has some spooky stories from her own past. Also, she goes through her sheriff’s office and finds his secret files on supernatural occurrences—including one about her. Conveniently, he has read aloud a diary entry on a tape recorder (who does that anymore?), which reveals the backstory the town’s bizarre history; so, he turns out to be the Fox Mulder from The X-Files in their world. Although that scene is executed poorly, it does set up for hopefully some spooky supernatural stories to come this season.

The first episode hints that the Revolutionary War was really a front to actually stop the horsemen demons (in this story there are a total of four who will rise) from causing the Armageddon. Perhaps this will be the Hellmouth that Buffy called Sunnydale. As illustrated by the pilot, priests and bibles will most likely play a major role in the show. It’s as if the creators of Sleepy Hollow said, “Why don’t we sprinkle in some National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code into this story?”

It’s not to say Sleepy Hollow isn’t ridiculous at all—because it is, very much so. It’s a drama with zany, supernatural plotlines … and an 18th century soldier has time traveled to the present day, which already says a lot. The show shouldn’t be taken too seriously and it ends up being a fun ride. However, it’s admirable that the creators (Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci of Fringe and the Star Trek reboot, Len Wiseman of Underworld, and Phillip Iscove) are bringing back what we’ve missed from TV: the conspiracy theories and mysteries from the likes of The X-Files and Twin Peaks. Beharie is an intelligent and strong female African-American lead, Mison is charming, and their chemistry is undeniable.

Hopefully the plotlines don’t get too murky and meander as some TV shows are ought to do nowadays, but it’s a fun fall drama definitely worth checking out. The second episode of Sleepy Hollow airs next Monday on Fox at 9 p.m., and in case you missed the pilot, it can be watched in its entirety here.

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