Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Head Above?

A quick review of Monday night's pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow on Fox...

The show plays like a cross between the classic Washington Irving story and Terminator 2, as a pair of time-traveling adversaries (Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman) arrive in the titular village and attempt to prevent/precipitate apocalypse.  Much like the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, the pilot episode wrings some comedy out of its stranger-in-a-strange-land motif, such as when Ichabod (here a handsome, witty Brit) remarks upon the African-American character Abbie Mills's "emancipation," or later incredulously poses, "When did it become acceptable for ladies to wear trousers?"  And there are some definite "Hasta la vista, baby" echoes when the Horseman at one point fires away with an assault weapon against roadblocking police officers.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the episode is that none of the inhabits of Sleepy Hollow seem familiar with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  The name "Ichabod Crane" fails to strike any bells, and no one references Irving's narrative when the talk turns to a menacing, headless horseman.  This apparent obliviousness undercuts one of the more clever moments in the pilot, when the actual Horseman pulls up in front of a yellow traffic sign bearing his silhouette (why would the mock sign even exist in this version of Sleepy Hollow?).  Nonetheless, the downplay of the literary pre-cursor should afford the show much more freedom in developing its plot lines.

The Horseman cuts an impressively imposing figure; with his hulking frame and almost-nonchalant commitment of violence, he's reminiscent of (an albeit cranially-challenged) Bane from The Dark Knight Rises.  While his cropped-top condition traces back to a Revolutionary War battlefield, this supernatural figure is given a more complex backstory than Irving's Hessian mercenary.  Never human in the first place, Sleepy Hollow's headless nemesis is Death itself, the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  As such, he heralds the appearance of further monstrosities in future episodes of the show.

Groundwork for a complex mythos (involving warring witch covens and the secret history of the Revolutionary War) is laid in the series premiere, implicitly promising that there will be plenty of fresh story to unfold.  Even more reassuring is the stellar rating numbers the pilot had, since a mass audience means Sleepy Hollow will be given every chance to hit its full dramatic stride.  This viewer, for one, has already seen enough to keep his head turned, and will be watching the Horseman ride again next Monday night.

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