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‘Sleepy Hollow’: Washington Irving Meets Dan Brown Meets CGI

“Our destinies are entwined. We’re on the battle ground where the armies of good and evil will wage war for the fate of mankind.” So says 250-year-old Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) to Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), the less superannuated half the “buddy cop” team at the center of “Sleepy Hollow.” That’s quite a claim, and its one that the show may stand or fall by.  

Basic set-up: Revolutionary War soldier Crane is killed in battle at Sleepy Hollow, but through magic, awakes in a cave there in 2013. Unfortunately, so does the massive, equine killing machine of a Hessian officer that Crane beheaded right before he died (and who, sadly, is not Christopher Walken, the Horseman from the 1999 film of the same name).

Crane is arrested for killing Mills’ boss, Sleepy Hollow’s sheriff, but she knows it was really Headless and frees Crane. They begin sleuthing out the (I guess) ancient prophecy about Sleepy Hollow, more folks die, demons and witches are introduced and we get some cute visuals of Ichabod adapting to the modern world. (Personally, I’d like to see a little more “EEK! Iron bird!” moments from a guy who was working for George Washington lest week.)

In short, they’ve taken the original Washington Irving ghost tale and gave it a shot of 21st Century steroids. That sword cuts both ways (see what I did there?). By the second episode, the show has already lost whatever it had of the familiar, thrilling dread of Irving’s early American gothic atmosphere of colonial houses and wild, dark woods and frightening isolation. On the other hand, that might be a necessary sacrifice. Modern audiences need CGI and constant motion, and Dan Brown and the “National Treasure” franchises have conditioned us to believe George Washington must have been battling something greater than General Howe and George III. He must have taken on eeeeeevil itself, with its occult weapons and soulless minions.

Whether “Sleepy Hollow’s” adaptation to long-form TV will work remains to be seen. So far, it’s been diverting, but not much more.