Not that anybody cares, but Washington Irving’s original “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was not a scary story. Not remotely gothic beyond some lovely travelogue-like description of the Hudson River Valley, it’s an early American satire, a comedy about how the salt of the earth manly men of an American wilderness town turn an artistic, intellectual, woman-stealing nancy boy’s own poetical imagination against him to run him out of their territory and away from their potential mates. There was no headless horseman, and Ichabod Crane was nobody’s idea of a hero. Disney did a pretty straightforward cartoon adaptation as far as story, but the imagery of the Headless Horseman was so deliciously scary, nobody remembers he was a fake. Johnny Depp, with his portrayal of “Ichabod Crane, Girl Detective” (his words, not mine, and utterly perfect), hit close to Washington Irving’s original skittish schoolmaster in his mannerisms, but he was a forensic detective who pushed past his fear to kick ass when courage was required, saving the day in the end. And oh yeah, the Horseman really was an evil Redcoat from beyond the grave. And there were witches.
FOX’s new series, Sleepy Hollow, seems to pick up where Tim Burton left off, adding a time link element to this new Horseman mythology. Ichabod is a Revolutionary soldier/spy who looks like he stepped off the cover of a nicely-designed 1980s romance novel. He finds himself in the Sleepy Hollow of today, a fish out of water with Oxford diction, allied with Abbie, a gorgeous lady cop in mannish clothes that show off her cleavage, a pretty pro straight out of the Dana Scully playbook. Watching the promos, I anticipated one more network supes show where the Magic Man spends half his time trying to convince Miz Pragmatic he’s not crazy and Miz Pragmatic spends half her time with her head in her purse. But they’ve got sexual tension and a pile of corpses to explain, so gosh darn it, they better team up. <yawn> I mean, just look at that promo picture – could those four characters look any more focus group ready?
But . . . . I watched the first two episodes. And while yeah, it starts out very much as expected, it veers straight off that rail and into fun stuff almost immediately. Ichabod (Tom Mison) is stalwart and intense and handsome, yes. But he’s also snarky and warm and ready to fight back not only against the Headless Horseman but against the modern day skeptics who think he’s delusional and possibly dangerous. Abbie (Nicole Beharie) is smart and capable and rocks the hell out of a scoop neck teeshirt. But she’s also kind and vulnerable in a genuinely womanly way (not the “she goes in the bathroom and cries for ten minutes every day about her ticking biological clock just to prove she has a uterus” way writers of this kind of show usually fall back on) with her own connection to the supernatural events that’s just as real and strong as Ichabod’s. Plus we have Orlando Jones as the usual doubting cop in charge – except this time, he may have a secret of his own, a reason for roadblocking our protagonists that goes beyond the “I’m too cynical for this shit” cliché. And John Cho is wandering around as a zombie cop with connections to the Horseman. And best of all, Clancy Brown haunts the warmest corners of the story as the ghost of Abbie’s mentor, the late sheriff and the Horseman’s highest profile victim. Any show that uses Clancy Brown as a good guy pretty much has me at hello.
There are problems – I’m not convinced yet by the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” angle (must the stakes ALWAYS be the end of the world?), and Ichabod’s witch wife, caught between worlds, seems more like a plot complication created to keep the leads from smooching until sweeps month than a necessary element of the story. But of all the new shows I had hope for this fall (I’m looking at you, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D), this one has been the happiest surprise.
Watch tonight at 9 o’clock on FOX – and come over and live Tweet with me (@LucyBlueCastle)!