The “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a short story by American author Washington Irving that has endured in the popular American imagination for more than two centuries. FOX has adapted the classic story for a new series premiering September 16 at 9:00 p.m. ET.
Sleepy Hollow begins during a fictional Revolutionary War Battle in 1781. In the Irving short story, Ichabod (Tom Mison) is a lanky schoolteacher. Here is a dashing history professor who had fought for the British, but switched sides after realizing the Yanks had a point.
During a pitched battle, a hulking, helmeted horseman with an odd bow-shaped scar on his hand is about to attack Ichabod, who shoots him in the chest. He falls, but then rises, wielding a huge battle axe. He lashes out with it, striking a mortal blow, but as he falls, Ichabod manages to behead him. They die on the battlefield, their blood mingling.
Ichabod awakens in an underground cavern no longer dead, no longer injured. Climbing up to the surface, he finds himself nearly 250 years later in a present day road. Stunned by his surroundings and by the fact he is not dead, Ichabod wanders.
Fast-forward 232 years to the New England town of Sleepy Hollow and the life of Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), a young, ambitious police officer on her way to Quantico to train for a post at the FBI. Her journey is interrupted by a string of murders — beheadings by an unknown assailant, reportedly on horseback. She, herself, refuses to believe what she actually sees before her. Even when her boss is murdered by this killer.
The police arrest the disoriented and confused Ichabod, but it is clear when there is another murder, that Ichabod cannot be the serial killer. But he has other problems. Insisting he is a man of the 18th Century does not go well for him, and he is confined to an mental institution.
He realizes soon enough that Abbie has seen the headless horseman and that something has happened to both connect Ichabod and horseman and bring them back to life. Abbie and Ichabod embark on a mission to unravel the mystery of the mysterious Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman and why Ichabod has been brought back. They are aided in their quest by Ichabod’s wife Katrina (Katia Winter), a witch supposedly burned in the 18th Century, but who now appears as an apparition. The town, we understand by the hour’s end has a long history of supernatural occurrences, and Abbie herself had been a childhood victim to one of them.
The series is beautifully shot and well-acted. Ichabod’s backstory in the deeply atmospheric setting of Early America is nicely contrasted to the modern Sleepy Hollow. Mison does a nice job of demonstrating Ichabod’s confusion in his new and strange circumstances, and Beharie plays Abbie with a perfect blend of vulnerability and toughness.
My only real quibble with the pilot has to do with the writing of Ichabod’s experiences in the modern world. Yes, it’s easy to overplay the fish out of water (which they do not do), but it is just as easy (and irritating) to place an 18th Century man in 2013 and have him accept the situation with a wink and a nod. I would think a man of his era would be more than passingly surprised by his surroundings.
Maybe they’re using shorthand for the pilot, but I would love to see how he deals with his dual new realities of living out of his time — and being haunted by his witch-wife. It’s a good start, and I look forward to watching the series and writing about it as the months pass.
Sleepy Hollow premieres tonight, Monday, Sept. 16 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.