There’s nothing sleepy about this supernatural, apocalyptic take on Washington Irving’s classic tale.
WHEN placing a classic fictional character on TV, some things need to be changed to reflect the times, whether it’s the setting, the location or even the gender. Take Sherlock Holmes, for instance: numerous liberties are taken with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, so Sherlock appears a little different with each screen incarnation, even as he retains his key traits. That way, both fans of the books and newcomers to the character can get into the series.
Now Sleepy Hollow does the same, but its changes are quite extensive. It retains the central character, Ichabod Crane – most famously portrayed by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow – from Washington Irving’s classic short story The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, published in 1820.
In the series, Ichabod is a former professor at Oxford University who joins the British army and then changes sides to fight alongside the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
In Irving’s tale, Ichabod was a teacher who fell in love with a certain Katrina Van Tassel. In Sleepy Hollow, the TV show, Ichabod’s wife is also Katrina but does not Irving’s original.
The most obvious alteration is that TV Ichabod is a very brave dude. In the prologue, we see him in a 1781 battle where he comes face to face with a Hessian soldier. Ichabod subsequently beheads the big guy but not before the Hessian delivers a mortal blow to him. Both bleed to death, but here’s the biggest and the most interesting departure: the Hessian (who has now become the Headless Horseman) and Ichabod both come back ... in 2013.
Ichabod wakes up underground on the outskirts of Sleepy Hollow. Everything about him is intact (ahem, especially his good looks and his 18th-century clothes). OK, he is a bit confused, especially when he’s arrested for a murder he couldn’t possibly have committed.
This Rip Van Winkle plot is nothing new (FYI: Rip Van Winkle was also written by good old Irving), but introducing elements like witchcraft, supernatural goings-on, historical events and the Headless Horseman – along with Ichabod – into modern-day America make for watchable telly.
Actor Tom Mison is especially good in this role, portraying Ichabod with a light touch, lending the character credibility, nobility, intelligence and humour. So much so, we are able to suspend disbelief even when something happens that is oh-so-far-fetched.
Mison makes Ichabod someone who can both marvel at how things have changed since his time, and be cynical about them (sometimes both at once); it’s easy to genuinely chuckle at his observations because there is truth in what he says and it’s quite spontaneous.
Scenes of Ichabod leaving a message on a telephone as though he is dictating a letter (somewhat surreal) and berating the people of today for actually paying for bottled water instead of taking it from the tap (so true) are just so funny.
And the fact that he walks around in two-century-old clothes while trying to assimilate present-day jargon and technology gives the series a much-needed break from its darker subject matter which revolves around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Other than Mison, the show also benefits from actress Nicole Beharie who plays no-nonsense police officer Lt Abbie Mills, who is quite a match for Ichabod. She and Mison also have great chemistry and good comedic timing, an added benefit for the series.
While the story is not completely solid, the characters move it along nicely enough to keep us tuning in every week. Yes, Sleepy Hollow makes many references to American history but this is inconsequential because these “facts” are tweaked to suit the show’s mythology anyway, so it becomes easy enough for the audience to ride along with Ichabod, Mills and Co.
* Sleepy Hollow airs every Wednesday at 9.50pm on Fox (Astro Ch 710).