New ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Aims to Put the Fun in Fantasy

Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison of "Sleepy Hollow" (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

If you’re tired of formulaic procedurals or overly dark fantasies, then Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” may be just the show for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a show that is faithful to its source material, then “Sleepy Hollow” may drive you insane. The show’s mythology combines Washington Irving’s classic story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with the Bible and American history to create an alternate, supernatural theory of the founding of the United States.

The premise has Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) waking up in the present, after spending the past 250 years in a Rip Van Winkle-esque slumber. Unfortunately, his nemesis the Headless Horseman has joined him in the 21st century. Their battle soon draws the attention of the modern Sleepy Hollow’s sheriff’s department. Deputy Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) finds herself teaming up with Ichabod in a most unconventional crime-fighting duo. They soon realize that Ichabod and the Horseman’s fates are joined and are part of a larger conspiracy that involves the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and stretches back to the American Revolution. “There’s a Revolutionary War and we sort of pull back the lid and everything you know about the way you thought this country was founded is completely blown apart,” said executive producer Alex Kurtzman Thursday during the show’s panel during the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Los Angeles.

Unlike many fantasy series, “Sleepy Hollow” has a light tone that acknowledges the humor inherent in the premise. “Our main mission was fun. We really want it to be a fun and entertaining show, beyond just finding the right tone, the right balance of horror and suspense and the fantasy elements,” Kurtzman explained.

Ichabod functions as the ultimate fish out of water in the modern-day town of Sleepy Hollow, which has a population of 144,000 and several Starbucks. “Part of what got us excited about Ichabod is he could be this wonderful lens through which we now view our world,” said Kurtzman. “This is a man who actually was put to sleep right before the United States came together, and he theoretically died fighting for ideals that are now the founding principles of our country. So what happens when you wake up over 250 years later and you see what those ideals have become.” Added executive producer Roberto Orci, “For him, finding a $25 sandwich in a hotel … that’s a lifetime worth of money to him. They started the Revolution over a 4% tax rate and look what we have today.”

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Ichabod’s foe will eventually get his head back. “It’s the Four Horsemen so he’s one of [them] and the other three Horsemen are planned to be just as cool as this one is,” said executive producer Mark Goffman. “What I really love about this idea is that the Headless Horseman is almost a mistake. He was dead. Ichabod killed him. That became who we all associated with the Headless Horseman. But once he gets his head back, he’s part of the big picture. It just happens that right now he’s the Headless Horseman.”

The producers relished the challenge of writing for a character without a head. “He’s not just going to be a creature. We’re really affected by the idea of how cunning and what you can give to somebody if you’re not expressing just within their body movements. We wanted to do it in the pilot, and we ended up not doing it, was what would an interrogation scene would look like if the Horseman was on the other side of the table. How would that work?” said Kurtzman.

Ichabod and Abbie’s relationship is at the core of the show. Said Mison, “Ichabod thinks he’s the only sane person in the room. Everyone around him is a maniac. Then there’s this one girl who has a similar secret. So they kind of have to bond with each other very quickly. I think that’s going to be real interesting to follow through the rest of the season.”

"Sleepy Hollow" (Photo: FOX)

But Ichabod’s heart belongs to his wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), who in the pilot, appears to him in a vision. “I think that’s a major drive through the series,” revealed Goffman. “Ichabod’s always going to want to grab her and bring her back. Right now, she’s trapped. From the moment he hears that she’s trapped, he’s figuring out how is she still alive, where is she exactly, and how can I free her? That really gives her a lot of territory to go after, trying to make sense of what this realm is and figure out is it a dream, is it purgatory? She’s going to start to leave these clues within his reality that we find break through … clues about how to free her, how to contact her.”

Every episode of the show will feature “Lost“-style flashbacks. “One of the real fun elements of the show is getting these historic flashbacks,” said Goffman. “You get to understand the [Horseman’s] origin story as well, but then the show and the series certainly isn’t based around just him. There are higher powers at work as well.”

The producers’ goal is to combine the mythology of supernatural shows with the accessibility of a procedural. Kurtzman explained, “You used to have to make a choice. Is it serialized television or a procedural? We were wildly influenced by “The X Files” … Our goal is that you can have stand-alone episodes where stories have a beginning, middle and end, but you can also — and I think this is what’s most important and what people watch television for — is continuity from episode to episode. Hopefully, it will be the best of both worlds.”

The producers promise, that, unlike some other high-concept shows, they have mapped out the long-term story arc in advance. Orci explained, “One of the things that the network asked of us was ‘You can’t just give us a pilot. We need to know where this is going… They would not pick us up, frankly, until we said, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen in the first season. And here are the big, tent-poles moves of the first season. Just by having to answer those questions, you come up with the six tent-poles of Season 2 and Season 3.”

“Sleepy Hollow” premieres Monday, Sept. 16 at 9/8c on FOX.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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