Does Sleepy Hollow stand a ghost of a chance?
‘Sleepy Hollow’ premieres and turns out to be something totally unexpected … in a good way.
The 2013 Fox fall season is off and running with the premiere of Sleepy Hollow from a bevy of producers including Alex Kurtzman (Fringe), Robert Orci (Xena, Alias, Fringe) and Len Wiseman (the Underworld films), who also directed the pilot. I think, though, that the show was sold as kind of a police procedural with a fish out of water, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), somehow transported 250 years into the future — our present — to help solve crimes. And deal with that pesky Headless Horseman. But it turned out to be much more than I bargained for … but probably should have expected considering the pedigree behind it.
Whereas I thought the show was going to be “CSI: Sleepy Hollow,” it’s actually more like a cousin to Supernatural, especially when you see the preview for what’s coming this season. What this definitely isn’t is Washington Irving’s tale of Ichabod Crane. In the original story, Crane is a schoolmaster in 1790 who is trying to win the affections of socialite Katrina Van Tassel, who also has another suitor in Abraham Van Brunt, aka “Brom Bones.” Failing to win Katina’s hand, Crane returns home after a night of ghost stories that play on his imagination. He is confronted by a headless horseman (who hurls his detached noggin at Crane) and never seen again. It’s implied the horseman was Brom as the only things found in the woods are a smashed pumpkin, his horse and a trampled saddle. The locals believe Crane was taken by the evil spirits in the forest.
The very, very basics of the story are present in the series, but Crane is no longer a nervous school teacher (as portrayed not long ago by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow). Now he is actually a Brit who switched sides during the Revolutionary War (which sets the story back a couple of decades) and became a spy for General George Washington. Crane beheads a large man dressed as a Redcoat, wearing a strange black mask and with an odd brand on his hand. The Redcoat also succeed in inflicting a fatal wound to Crane, but other forces come into play as Crane awakens in a cave, digging himself out of a shallow grave and into the world of the present. But he’s not alone as the Headless Horseman has followed.
And here’s where things get even more strange. After several decapitations, most notably of the big name guest stars, the town’s police force (led by Orlando Jones) begins to believe that Crane is not the killer, especially when he’s in the custody of Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) at the time of the murder of a local reverend … who Crane somehow recognizes from 1776. Crane is committed to a mental hospital for observation, but is visited by his wife Katrina (yes, that Katrina) in a dream or vision and it’s revealed that this is not going where we thought it was going.
Turns out Katrina was tried and burned as a witch, the police chief (Clancy Brown) had hidden away files of investigations into supernatural occurrences in Sleepy Hollow, and the Headless Horseman in the Redcoat uniform was actually Death himself, preparing for the coming of the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Now, instead of a police procedural, Sleepy Hollow has become a battle against good and evil in an attempt to stave off the end of the world. My interest level in the show certainly spiked at this point, and the previews of various demons and monsters to come will have me glued to the TV as long as they can keep it interesting. The Winchester boys have put the Apocalypse on hold once already, so now it looks like the future of the world is in the hands of one Ichabod Crane.
The pilot episode has set up the series’ mythology pretty well, just giving us enough enticing morsels to keep us coming back for more, and have hinted through a line of dialogue that there is a seven season plan in the works. Will the show actually survive that long? I believe it does have a shot, especially since Fox didn’t stick it in the Friday death slot. The main cast is engaging even if Mison’s Crane is a little too aware of the world around him. Some comments about Lt. Mills being a black female officer … and an emancipated one at that … could have been eyebrow-raising, but Beharie’s response to the potentially sexist and racist comment defused the situation. While Crane is still unfamiliar with the modern gadgets that surround him, and how the town has changed in 250 years (asking if there is a law that requires a Starbucks on every corner!), he’s not quite the complete fish out of water that I expected. He seems to fit right in, even though he’s still dressed in 1776 garb by the end of the episode, and is still fascinated with the power windows in Mills’ vehicle.
I like Beharie’s sass, and the episode revealed that Mills also has a sister and they are all connected to Crane by the same vision of the Four Horsemen. Mills and Crane are pretty much the Sam and Dean of the show. Jones is the stereotypical skeptic, but as heads keep rolling he has no choice to but allow Mills and Crane work together. We’ll see how long he’ll remain skeptical. I can see him becoming the Broyles of the show (fitting coming from the Fringe team). We haven’t met many other regular cast members as most of the supporting players were dispatched in the pilot, but we can assume we’ll see Katrina as a recurring character to deliver more clues to Ichabod, as well as Abbie’s sister.
Production design on the show was spectacular, with the town of Sleepy Hollow having a real New England feel to it and some beautiful aerial shots of the town … even though the series is filmed in North Carolina. The Headless Horseman is also very well done, looking proportioned properly (not just built up shoulders to hide the stuntman’s head underneath the costume), and the beheadings are handled tastefully and without a ton of blood (the blade is apparently heated — as the Horseman is a demon — so that the wounds are instantly cauterized), but still manage to make you gasp when one happens on camera.
Once the show revealed itself to be more of a supernatural thriller than oddball police show, I was hooked. If they do have a seven year plan mapped out with a beginning, middle and end then, based on the pilot, I’m ready to immerse myself in this world to see how it all plays out. The question is, will this be another Fringe-like show on Fox with a small but loyal following, or will the masses tune in to see if the world will be saved in seven years’ time? What do you think?