The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic American tale that’s been retold through various mediums, most famously in recent years by director Tim Burton, and starring Johnny Depp as the socially awkward Ichabod Crane. Creators/executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orici (Star Trek: Into Darkness) are not following Burton’s vision, but instead are giving viewers something truly original and exciting to enjoy this fall on FOX.
For the lead role of Ichabod Crane, Depp has been replaced by British actor Tom Mison (Parade’s End), who instead of possessing social awkwardness, has a certain charm and wit that’s difficult to resist. Nicole Beharie (Shame) plays a beautiful determined young police officer named Abbie Mills. Together, these two unique individuals make up the backbone of FOX’s new hour-long drama series – and what a surprisingly strong backbone it is.
Sleepy Hollow opens with an exciting battle sequence during the Revolutionary War in 1781. From the beginning, it’s clear that a skilled director is behind the camera as film-like quality action fills the screen. Len Wiseman, who has been behind the Underworld franchise since its conception, gives the episode that same stylistic approach. The Underworld films are far from perfect, but it’s hard to deny that Wiseman’s visuals have style and appeal. The opening sequence is jarring, as Ichabod and the horseman confront each other immediately, only to have Crane awake in the 21st Century having no idea how he got there.
A popular trope used in television series today with shows like Bates Motel and Under the Dome is the establishment of the “there’s something not quite right with this town” motif. That’s not to say that there’s something inherently wrong with this form of storytelling, but when we’re first introduced to Lieutenant Abbie Mills and her boss, played by the talented Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption), he immediately points out that there have been unsolved crimes in the area. With a title like Sleepy Hollow, mystery already exists, the writers don’t need to worry about overtly emphasizing that point. This is a minor discrepancy, and one that is mentioned only due to the fact that the majority of the premiere is written so well.
The superb writing extends to the character development as Mills and Crane are introduced upon his arrival to the police station. Whether it’s Ichabod asking Mills how she was emancipated from slavery, or why women wear trousers, their on-screen chemistry is hard to ignore and will hopefully continue to be one of the show’s strongest attributes. Sleepy Hollow’s balance of drama, fantasy, and comedy is to be commended. In a world filled with shows where men are the anti-heroes (i.e. Breaking Bad, Low Winter Sun) it’s nice to see a regular hero like Ichabod emerge. With Abbie Mills, we’re given an extraordinarily strong female character – another aspect of the show that raises the bar for TV.
Even with these strong performances, the mystery of the headless horseman adds another dimension to series. Making the mercenary one of the four horseman of the apocalypse was a good choice for the writers, due to the plethora of legends, biblical accounts, tales, and fiction they can delve into. The horseman has always been an imposing figure, and now that he’s death itself, it only makes him that much more menacing. While watching the horseman chop off heads with his broad axe is entertaining, witnessing him use a shotgun and an automatic rifle was priceless (albeit a tad over-the-top). This is an updated version of the classic tale, so if you’re going to have a Starbucks at every corner, then the horseman needs a change of weaponry. Purists can rest easy though, for there’s no doubt that we’ll see the horseman chop off more heads as the season continues.
As with any new television series, the question of the show’s longevity comes into play. Sleepy Hollow has the potential to be a hit for FOX, as it combines several genres seamlessly into one fantastic product. The mystery surrounding the legend of the headless horseman is inescapable, but what will hook viewers is the chemistry between Abbie Mills and Ichabod Crane – and a strong cast supported by actors like John Cho (Star Trek) and Orlando Jones (Bedazzled) only help to strengthen the show’s appeal. This is not to downplay the fantastical elements of the series, and it will be exciting to see if Crane and Mills can prevent the apocalypse from happening.
Near the end of the premiere, Ichabod reads from the Book of Revelations and reveals to Abbie that there are two witnesses that must face seven years of tribulation. Crane believes that they are those witnesses, and like the verse reads, will FOX plan for seven seasons if this show is a hit?
Sleepy Hollow continues next Monday with ‘Blood Moon’ @9pm on FOX.