‘Sleepy Hollow’ takes familiar story in new directions

Posted Monday, Sep. 16, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Sleepy Hollow • Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday • KDFW/Channel 4

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If Washington Irving were alive today, he might receive credit onscreen as a co-creator of Sleepy Hollow.

It would be just a legal formality, though. That’s because The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Irving’s original ghost story, one that has endured nearly 200 years as a classic of American literature, has pretty much nothing in common with the new TV series premiering at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox.

Granted, there’s a protagonist named Ichabod Crane.

And yes, there’s a Headless Horseman who’s menacingly riding about in the night.

But beyond that, series co-creators and executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are working from a decidedly different playbook.

“We love every iteration of Sleepy Hollow [up to and including the 1999 Tim Burton-Johnny Depp movie of the same title],” Orci says. “But we didn’t want to do what had come before.

“So we said, ‘OK, what’s a different version? How do we do it differently and yet pay homage to that wonderful short story?’”

Well, for starters, in this version of the Sleepy Hollow story, the gangly, scarecrowlike Ichabod Crane is played by Tom Mison, a handsome English actor.

And instead of a cowardly Crane, we get one who is exceptionally brave and a man of action.

As for the Horseman, he’s so much more than just an apparition in the woods.

He is literally one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, meaning the town of Sleepy Hollow — and the entire world, for that matter — is in for serious trouble in the episodes to follow, because the Horseman’s end-of-the-world riding buddies are on their way.

And did we mention that Ichabod and the Horseman, who died in battle during the Revolutionary War, have somehow managed to come back to life in 2013?

And that Ichabod starts working with a Sleepy Hollow police detective (played by Nicole Beharie) to combat the paranormal criminal activity plaguing the town?

These also are elements of the series. The result: “We get to fuse the horror genre with a cop procedural, which is such a staple of television, and bring kind of a new spin to it,” Kurtzman says.

This is a lot of story premise to take in in just one one-hour episode, but Sleepy Hollow does all this and more.

This is a show that cannot be accused of going small.

“This is a show about questioning everything and battling to find the answers, no matter how uncomfortable they may be,” Mison says, “even if those questions lead you to a man with no head charging at you with an ax!”

It’s also a show with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink quality that some viewers will find addictive, while others will consider it just too much effort to keep watching.

Then again, that’s to be expected from the writing-producing team of Kurtzman and Orci, whose other credits include Fringe, the rebooted “Star Trek” movie franchise and the current version of Hawaii Five-O. These guys are drawn to serialized, sometimes messy storytelling.

“We like rich mythologies,” is how Kurtzman prefers to put it. “We’re always walking that line between doing a show that you can step into at any time and one where you are rewarded for keeping track.

“We like things to build, and we like characters to have an emotional memory. Finding that line is one of our ambitions in television.”

If viewers are like Mison, they’ll be intrigued by the new Sleepy Hollow.

“The most amazing thing about this show is taking a character that you know and you recognize and putting him into a completely different, unique situation,” the actor says. “We have taken the essence of Ichabod. But there are new situations. There are new dangers.

“Rather than having someone running around scared for however many episodes, he’s more eager to find out what’s happening and what’s going wrong, so he’s slightly braver, he’s slightly bolder, but more than anything he’s confused and desperate to get to the bottom of this weird situation he finds himself in.”

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