It was with a skeptical eye that I sat down to watch Fox’s new supernatural-tinged series, SLEEPY HOLLOW, and I was also wary about liking it because the last Monday Fox show I liked in that time slot was ALCATRAZ, and we all know what happened there.
I ended up liking SLEEPY HOLLOW quite a bit, which surprised me, because I wasn’t expecting all that much: Even if the pilot is good, I thought, where can a weekly series go? How much comedy material can the producers squeeze from Ichabod Crane as a fish out of time? Will they meet How does the Headless Horseman find his targets?
Turns out, there’s quite a lot of potential, thanks to some clever reimagining of the premise. Making the Headless Horseman into the personification of Death and tying him to something bigger, mainly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, was a smart move and opens up the possible storylines for the series by expanding it from a parochial story into something that could, as Crane himself says, affect every man, woman and child in the world.
The series begins in 1781, during the Revolutionary War. Gen. George Washington has ordered Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) to take out one particular mercenary: a big chap sporting a bow tattoo on his hand and wearing a black mask. Crane beheads the guy, but he doesn’t die; instead he mortally wounds Crane, who passes out. Crane wakes up in a cave and learns it’s 2013 — and his headless nemesis has also risen from the grave.
The only person who (sort of) believes Crane is Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), a deputy who saw a headless guy chop off the melon of Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown). Crane learns that his wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), was a witch who cast a spell on Crane to preserve his life that affected the topless guy as well. When unknown evil forces woke up the Horseman, Crane was awakened, too. Now the Headless guy is looking for his skull (which was hidden in Katrina’s grave) and — under the direction of a demon-looking dude — looking to pave the way for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to bring about the end of the world.
I like that Crane is portrayed as a very suave, contemporary guy who is confused by what’s going on but not paralyzed by it. He accepts his journey through time as something he cannot change and immediately concentrates on his newfound mission. He’s charming and has a way with banter.
On the receiving end of that banter is Abbie, who isn’t really all that great a cop, so it’s probably for the best that she decides to forego joining the FBI to try to stave off Armageddon. Abbie and Crane work well together; I just don’t want this to devolve into yet another “wacky police advisor” story, a la BONES, CASTLE, ELEMENTARY, WHITE COLLAR — though I wouldn’t mind if SH mimics the breezy atmosphere of, say, WC, without turning into the “All Fan Service, All the Time” SUPERNATURAL.
Seeing Clancy Brown’s name listed as a “guest star” in the opening credits betrayed that he wasn’t going to be around long, which is a shame for two reasons: First, Clancy is always great, but secondly, he was the evil Kurgan in Highlander, that movie about immortals who could only be killed by decapitation. He’s got plenty of experience with the lopping off of noggins. But perhaps he can appear in flashbacks, or at least provide more voiceover for historical scenes. I liked that Sheriff Corbin had been tracking local supernatural activity and trying to relate it to unsolved crimes in the area. Yes, Sheriff Corbin was a
Hunter Winchester Brother conspiracy nut guy with a fetish for the unexplained, and his groundwork will make it easier for Abbie to segue into his role and hunt nasty beasties.
The nastiest seems to be the Demon who can travel through mirrors and cut off heads with a slash of his hand. The Demon looks pretty intimidating, and he reminded me of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. His method of moving — in jerky, strobe-like motions with sudden quickness — looks just like the Crooked Man from the DOCTOR WHO episode “Hide.” These are good things.
For the (historical) record, nobody was executed by burning at the stake for witchcraft in the New World; they were hanged. The big Salem Witch Trials resulted in hangings. So Katrina’s purported death by fire could be seen as a clue that we’re in an alternate universe. Also? It appears that the story of the Headless Horseman doesn’t exist in this universe, since the sudden appearance of the two main characters doesn’t have everyone saying, “Ichabod Crane? As in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?”
The direction by Len Wiseman (a.k.a. Mr. Kate Beckinsale, and the director of Underworld) was a bit showy, but this pilot had a lot of arcane mythology to establish, and he did a good job of keeping up the narrative pace. Besides, the shot from the POV of the priest as he was beheaded was worth his fee. (As an executive producer on the series, I’m sure Wiseman cut himself a good deal.) And, in a similar vein, while it was not a very “Harold and Kumar” ending for Star Trek’s John Cho as Deputy Andy — it was another pretty cool visual.
Speaking of visuals, it was nice to see some authentic Westchester County landmarks, like the Tappan Zee Bridge, in establishing shots, because the “Sleepy Hollow” that the characters run around in is a location in North Carolina, not the real Sleepy Hollow. (No Starbucks, for one thing.) On the other hand, the sign in the beginning of the episode listed the population of Sleepy Hollow at 144,000, but the real town boasts a mere 10,000 or so souls.
But is there no room at the inn, so to speak? Does the Horseman “live” in the river? When he rose out of the water, the horse with the red eyes seemed to be there waiting for him, as if it were planned. If so, he’s going to have a hard time keeping it a secret, as that area is pretty well-developed and populated. Perhaps he should find a nice cave somewhere. Something near a dam, maybe.