The Fall 2013 TV season starts with a bang this week.. or perhaps with a slice. A slice from the Headless Horseman’s broadaxe to be specific. FOX’s Sleepy Hollow, premiering in its Monday 9pm timeslot, has the potential to be an interesting reimagining of Washington Irving’s classic and gripping legend. If not handled well by its visionaries, though, the show may fail to connect.
Set in a modern-day town of Sleepy Hollow, the show introduces viewers to Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), a Revolutionary-Brit-turned-Patriot brought back to the land of the living after 250 years of slumber. Having killed a deadly soldier in the past (by beheading) at the orders of George Washington, Crane now finds himself teamed up with Sherrif Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) as they hunt down the also-awakened soldier of death — the Headless Horseman.
With an old Bible in a cave reminding Crane of the details of his past encounter with the Horseman, the first episode offers the suggestion that Crane’s nemesis is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Bible is marked at a passage from Revelation:
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. (Rev. 6:8a KJV)
Later recollections by the Sherrif suggest even worse news that perhaps there is a demon charged with raising the Four Horsemen (and Ichabod Crane, one of the biblical Apocalypse’s “two witnesses,” by association thanks to the actions of a witches’ coven).
In some ways, one might argue that this first episode is telegraphing too much of the show’s storyline. In what will likely prove to be a fiercely competitive television season, such revelation is probably a necessary choice to keep fickle viewers hooked for a second episode.
But what of the choice to employ the biblical tale of a dark demon-filled apocalypse as the show’s foundation?
In drawing on the biblical text, the writers embrace the Puritanical tones of Irving’s legend. Sleepy Hollow, though, certainly does not stay faithful to the biblical text, already introducing the two covens of witches – one dark and one light. How far and in what ways the writers press the biblical text may be one of the critical factors in the show’s success. Casting a coven of witches as a solution to a biblical threat seems unlikely to resonate with more religiously-oriented viewers tuning in, and drawing on biblical ideas may require the writers to bend over backwards to make the witches make sense in their world.
Of course, shows like the CW’s Supernatural have had success drawing on religious text-as-myth to generate content. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel occasionally drew on religious references in captivating ways that kept audiences from bolting. How Sleepy Hollow will differentiate itself as its own unique success (beyond merely including a comical British character) remains a little unclear.
Sleepy Hollow’s tone seems part Haven, part Supernatural, part National Treasure, and part cheeky Elementary, making it unclear for viewers just what type of show they are signing on to. A late reverend has telekinetic superpowers, the Horseman carries an AK-47, and the final scene features a horror-movie-worthy flash of a demon in the prison mirror. Viewership may be fractured by the disjointed tone, and the choices suggest that the mytho-biblical adaptations will likewise be disjointed.
The show offers promise in its inclusion of the Reverend Alfred Knapp (Patrick Gorman), appearing at first to be a powerful religious character with a real ability to resist evil (playing a critical role in passing down the Bible, then facing off with the Horseman). An actually powerful (and good) priest is rare in many supernatural shows, which often cast clergy as naïve and ultimately disposable.
Alas, the reverend’s reliance on a coven of witches and then his early demise make his role a missed opportunity for a fresh integration of religious tradition in mythical television. With the re-animation of the Horseman and Ichabod, though, perhaps viewers will get a chance to see the good reverend back in action before too long (especially given that the reverend is credited with a full name on IMDB).
The show’s premiere had its high points and its low points, likely leaving many viewers torn over whether or not to cancel their DVR recordings. The explicit integration of the biblical text makes the show an interesting one to track, though it may not be long before the typical conventions become inevitable (along with the show’s possible demise). Time will tell.
And what did you think of Sleepy Hollow? Did you enjoy the twist on Revelation, or did you wish that they had left the witches out of it? And what about the apparent racial diversity in the show – does that offer a unique opportunity for the viewers in this mytho-thriller? Sound off in the COMMENTS below.
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