Sunday, December 22, 2013

Old 'Sleepy' legend, rebooted

(Published Dec. 16, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Washington Irving’s classic characters Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman return and renew their enmity in the horror-action series “Sleepy Hollow,” but it’s not a simple retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In grand, effects-enhanced fashion, the old foes are magically revived in the present, their unexpected reunion threatening to tear apart the titular New York town.

Ichabod isn’t the meek and awkward fellow depicted previously in Tim Burton’s quirky 1999 film “Sleepy Hollow” or the eerie 1949 Disney cartoon adaptation of the tale. Ichabod here is a handsome soldier and George Washington’s agent, who defeated the nearly impervious and masked Horseman.
Played by English actor Tom Mison, Ichabod is a dashing fighter during the Revolutionary War, a teacher who unknowingly married a good witch, Katrina (Katia Winter). She is responsible for his return over 200 years later.

The Headless Horseman makes his presence known by going on a gory rampage, witnessed by a cop, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). Abbie and Ichabod hesitantly work together and figure out the monster’s mission, and are soon faced with the revelation that it is actually Death, one of the biblical Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Spectacle-centric and flashy, “Sleepy Hollow” is created by Phillip Iscove (who originally pitched the idea), Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Len Wiseman (whose collaborations include TV shows “Xena,” “Alias,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Fringe,” and films “Transformers” and “Star Trek”).

 Three episodes into it, the series already has its clear strengths and weaknesses. “Sleepy Hollow” is solid if quite derivative; the show is like a redundant mashup of “Supernatural,” “Angel” and “Grimm,” primarily because it has a different supernatural bogeyman every week.

There is humor, yes, but it’s nowhere near as natural or effective as in those other series. There is Ichabod’s time-displacement situation; he has dopey encounters with modern rules and inventions, but that gets old after a bit. It will hopefully draw humor from other sources, but for now, it’s mostly bleak and heavy, as the protagonists figure out ways to prevent the Horseman from ushering in the end of the world.

Mison and Beharie are competent; their onscreen personas form an unlikely but functional monster-hunting duo. And while the characters they play have backstories riddled with clichés—they even find themselves connected to some ancient doomsday prophecies!—they offer a new spin on the common “contrasting but platonic partners” concept.

Both have yet to become really compelling, and the show needs to make the weekly monster-fighting less predictable, but so far, “Sleepy Hollow” is often visually engaging. It still follows a safe, drawn-out formula, so it should try out new storytelling avenues—creativity-wise, it will benefit from losing its head from time to time.

(“Sleepy Hollow” airs Saturdays, 10:45 p.m. on Fox.)

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