It was in 1820 that Washington Irving wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a short story that was part of a collection of 34 different essays and stories. Undoubtedly the most well known and enduring entry in the book, Irving’s tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman has spawned countless films and stage plays over the years, dating all the way back to the early 1900s.
With horror-themed shows all the rage right now, thanks to the massive success of series’ like The Walking Dead and True Blood, Fox decided to get in on the fun with their own televised version of Irving’s story, a modern day upgrade that premiered this past Monday night, and will air every Monday night at 9pm EST. The show has been given a 12 episode run, and is being brought to us by co-creators/producers Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci, the writers of films like Mission Impossible 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Should you make sure your ass is planted on the couch every Monday night, or at least set your DVR to record the show whenever a new episode airs? While it’s always impossible and unfair to judge a show based on only one episode, and while I of course can’t answer that question for you, I got around to checking out the pilot episode earlier this morning and wanted to spew forth some thoughts about it. Because that’s what I do.
Taking the classic story out of the 1700s and into the era of cell phones, the internet and racial equality, “Sleepy Hollow” takes the interesting (if not highly silly) approach of transporting both Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman forward in time, from the 1700s to the present day. Directed by Len Wiseman (Underworld), the episode begins in 1781, with a brief opening sequence set during the Revolutionary War. It doesn’t take long for Ichabod Crane to decapitate a particularly mean axe-wielding British soldier, passing out in the process and finding himself waking up moments later, buried underground. Or at least, Crane thinks it’s moments later.
As he soon realizes, Crane is no longer in the same time period he last remembers being in, the show wasting no time thrusting him into the 21st century. Before the first commercial break is even taken, three men lose their heads (including the sheriff), Crane is locked up in jail, and he comes to the realization that he’s not the only one who did a bit of time traveling. A certain headless British soldier rode into the town of Sleepy Hollow with him, hellbent on continuing their battle from hundreds of years prior and exacting revenge for the loss of his head.
Of course, the police don’t quite believe Crane’s story about a headless man riding around on a horse, and he finds himself accused of the brutal murder of the sheriff. It doesn’t help matters any that a female police officer named Abbie Mills witnessed the murder, even though she got a good clear shot of the headless marauder, because she knows her fellow officers will never believe the unbelievable tale. So Crane and Mills set out on their own to figure out what the hell is going on, Crane trying to convince Mills of everything that he knows, and Mills taking everything he says with a grain of salt, despite what she witnessed with her own two eyes. Deep down she knows he’s telling the truth, but you’ll have to excuse her if it’s all a little hard to wrap her head around. Echoes of the relationship between Mulder and Scully, for sure.
We learn that Abbie is the perfect person for Crane to be aligned with, due to an experience in her childhood that resulted in people calling her crazy. Her and her sister were walking home through the woods one day when out of nowhere four white trees appeared, and they saw and heard some weird shit before blacking out. After telling the story to Crane, Mills digs through the file cabinet in the deceased sheriff’s office, discovering that a whole lot of strange things have gone on in Sleepy Hollow over the years, including a history of witchcraft. By listening to the sheriff’s tape recorder, she finds out that he knew about the four white trees, which had been documented in the past, but didn’t know how to go about telling Mills. Only in the afterlife does he convey the message to her, proving that you don’t need a head to help out a friend. I think that’s all Dr. Carl Hill was trying to prove, back in 1985.
Meanwhile, Crane has a dream wherein his wife Katrina tells him that she’s a witch, and that it was her that entombed him after he decapitated the British soldier…who as it turns out is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse…go figure! Apparently their bloodlines were merged on the battlefield, and the two are now forever bound together. The horseman’s body was tossed into the ocean, but his evil pals somehow managed to resurrect him, which also resurrected Crane. Thus why both of them are alive and well, 250 years after they did battle. Ah ha. Well that explains it! She goes on to tell Crane that the horseman is looking for his head, and that once he finds it his plans of world domination will commence. Where’s the head, you ask? Buried in a grave marked as Katrina’s, to throw him off the trail. You clever little witch, you.
While Mills and Crane are exhuming the horseman’s pickled skull, officer Andy Dunn (John Cho from Harold & Kumor fame) leads the headless beast to the cemetery, resulting in a pretty epic sequence wherein a dude with no head blows headstones away with a shotgun. Backup eventually arrives and the horseman is forced to ride off into darkness when the sun comes up, being that he’s as intolerant to sunlight as a vampire. Since so many cops witnessed what Crane described, they now have no choice but to believe his story, and Mills decides to cancel plans she had of relocating to a different town, realizing that her fate is to work with Crane to stop the impending apocalypse. You go, girl.
They plan on questioning officer Dunn as to how the hell he knows so much and why he helped out the horseman, a plan that goes up in smoke when a weird ass demon creature tells him he failed, and then slices his head off. That’s the note the episode is left on, and the creature is presumably one of the many demons that help the four horsemen carry out their evil deeds. Either that or he’s just some creature that wandered off the set of a new Guillermo Del Toro movie.
Though it’s again way too early to form any real opinion about the series, I felt that the premiere episode was incredibly solid, a nice mixture of humor and horror that managed to entertain me the whole way through. The show never takes itself too seriously and those involved know the premise is quite silly, a thread of humor running throughout that lets ya know they’re just having fun with it all. A lot of that humor comes from the Encino Man-esque concept of a man from the past being transported to the present, with Crane baffled and bewildered by things like flashlights, automatic windows and the many Starbucks coffee shops that fill out the town. It’s all just plain fun, and the atmospheric horror that clashes with the humor is both delightful to watch as well as perfectly timed, with the Halloween season now upon us. Nothing like watching heads roll on a brisk fall evening!
The combination of the interesting concept and well timed premiere led to “Sleepy Hollow” becoming the highest rated fall premiere of a drama for Fox in six years, pulling in over 10 million viewers this past Monday night. Let’s hope they can not only keep those numbers up, but also keep delivering the goods that the premiere very much delivered. I’ve seen many shows impress right out of the gate, with incredible first episodes followed by lackluster ones, and I’m really hoping that “Sleepy Hollow” retains the atmosphere, humor and entertainment factor that made this premiere so much fun to watch. As long as heads are getting cut off and the horseman is being a total badass, I see no reason why I won’t be sticking with this one for the duration. But I still need a few more episodes before I can fully make that commitment.
If you caught the season premiere of the show, comment below and let us know what ya thought!