Die-hard literary fans of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman may be very upset with how true Fox’s Sleepy Hollow series stays to Washington Irving’s original short novel. Perhaps it’s no wonder since Roberto Orci is the series’ executive producer; many die-hard Star Trek fans had the same problem with J.J. Abrams’ take on Gene Roddenberry’s space epic, a take that Orci also served as a creator on. Therefore, much like Tim Burton’s 1999 film adaptation of Irving’s novel, it doesn’t stay very true to the original. All this aside from the fact that the series is set in our own 21st century. Not really a sequel to the film or novel, it exists in its own semi alternative universe. If viewed in this way, then the series may be worth watching.
Unlike in the novel, Ichabod is not a cowardly school teacher in Sleepy Hollow, although he is very intelligent. He is a soldier of the Revolutionary War, a war that the novel takes place several years after. In this series, Ichabod won Katrina Van Tassel’s hand in marriage rather than lost her to the bullying Brom Bones as he does in the novel. Sadly, however, he has lost her to someone else—the town of Sleepy Hollow who has convicted and burned her as a witch. On top of all this is the heart of the series’ plot: Ichabod goes into a coma during battle and does not awake until our time and so in a modern day Sleepy Hollow. So an element of Irving’s other classic work, “Rip Van Winkle”, is combined with this series.
The other element that deviates from the novel in a significant way is that Crane lops off the head of one of the enemy in the Revolutionary War segment of the pilot episode. Of course, this enemy is the one whose ghost comes back as the Headless Horse Man. Unlike the novel, the headless ghost does not carry a Jack-o-lantern that serves as a temporary head. The Headless Horseman follows Ichabod Crane to the present time, and it turns out to be that the ghost is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and so the apocalyptic theme that has become so famous with zombie films and literature for at least the last five years is being utilized here for a modern day audience. The Headless Horseman uses a battle axe to chop off the heads of his victims instead of a sword like he does in the novel. This is a-chronological and a slight giveaway for a Hollywood obsessed audience since it was very unlikely for soldiers of the Revolutionary War to have used an axe in battle (that was a battle weapon used more during the Dark and Middle Ages).
The pilot episode mostly shows the backstory, explained above, for the series. The storyline for the first episode shows the dilemma Crane gets into. Upon waking in the 21st century, he is taken as a strange character because he is in his 18th century military uniform and so is suspected of lopping off the head of the town’s sheriff. He is taken into custody by cop Lt. Abbie Mills who the sheriff was a surrogate father to. Mills, a skeptic, does not believe Ichabod’s story when he explains who really murdered the sheriff and where he, Ichabod, is really from and when. But as the supernatural events unfold more and more in front of both Abbie’s and Ichabod’s eyes, she slowly but surely believes his story. The problem is that both heroes have a hard time convincing the police captain, an almost total skeptic, of the story.
The storyline holds well as a series if all thoughts of the original novel and of earlier film adaptations faithful to the book (such as Disney’s animated “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) are put aside. So it’s no wonder Orci served as a producer on the series. Like Abrams’ Star Trek the series involves an alternative history element that significantly changes many of Irvings’ characters’ roles. The ambience of the town of Sleepy Hollow is mostly a dark one either through cloudy weather or frequent night scenes, without being overdone like Burton’s big screen adaptation was and so the show varies the scenes with sunny moments making it a little more realistic. The character interaction, including between Ichabod and Abbie, is well portrayed and the story’s suspense develops good. This is especially so in the debut episode.
By episode two, sadly, things start faltering. In fact, they falter at the very beginning—it opens with the all too cliché dream sequence. If anybody watches TV and film intelligently and attentively enough, this will be easily picked up from the start. Unlike television episodes of most other series, the action begins too strong and too absurdly at the beginning for it not to be a dream sequence. But even so, the dream is integrated well with the plot since it is prophetic of events to come later in the episode and series. However, this segment could have been just as easily integrated as a flashback when Ichabod talks to Abbie about the dream around midway through the episode. The special effects are done good by television standards, and so is the character development for an action-based TV series.
Sleepy Hollow is well produced both at the story and visual levels, including acting, and is impressive at least as an alternative history of Irving’s tale. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that, according to TV Guide, “The premiere scored 13.6 million viewers, the [Fox] network's best debut since 24 in 2001” and so that Fox has already renewed the series for a second season. But how much further it will develop through that alternative history and therefore deviate from the novel will be hard to say until probably the end of the first season or maybe even the second.
Until next time . . .