Even though the Fox network’s new show Sleepy Hollow was on several critic’s lists of must watch shows in the fall there was some question of whether or not audiences would embrace it. Most fantasy shows produced by major networks don’t fare too well. For every hit like Grimm there are two fantasy shows that fade away after one season. But with shows like The Walking Dead dominating the cable ratings and shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time outperforming Fox staples like New Girl and Glee the network execs knew they needed to come up with their own genre show. They took a chance on Sleepy Hollow and that chance paid off for the network. Sleepy Hollow has had very good ratings in the freshman season and the two hour season finale won its time slot in Fox’s target market. Season two of the unlikely hit is already in production and with heavy support from the studio it should attract even more viewers before the Season 2 premiere.
The premise of the show is loosely based on the story of the Headless Horseman, which is an odd origin for a TV show. In the original story the Headless Horseman is a Hessian soldier who was beheaded in a battle during the Revolutionary War in upstate NY. He chases people down on his war charger and takes their heads to replace his own missing head. The tale is set in an upstate NY town that is known for being the seat of many battles during the Revolutionary War. In the folk tale the Horseman chases down a local school teacher name Ichabod Crane who wants to marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Katrina Van Tassel. The original tale is often told at Halloween, which is one of the nights when the Horseman is said to go out looking for a head.
It seems like a strange tale to adapt into a TV show, especially one that has a modern setting. But in Sleepy Hollow the characters are familiar it’s just the story that is different. Ichabod Crane was a soldier in the Colonial army who killed one of the fierce Hessian mercenaries in a battle by beheading him. Crane was killed by the Hessian as he lay dying and the two died together. When they battled their blood mingled, creating a bond between them. The Hessian, who is one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, was brought back from the grave by someone wanting to set the apocalypse in motion. That brought Ichabod Crane back to life also because he and the Horseman share a bond.
As Ichabod Crane struggles to figure out the modern world and track down the Horseman he comes into contact with Lt. Abbie Mills, a detective who is tracking a killer that murdered her partner and is killing other people in the small town of Sleepy Hollow. The murderer is the Horseman, who is killing people that are relevant to the apocalypse and killing people at the request of the person who brought him back to life. At first Abbie Mills dismisses Ichabod as a crazy person but she eventually accepts his bizarre tales about the supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, and his past. She had some unexplained supernatural events happen to her and her sister when she was young that scared her. Ichabod tells her that she has a role to play in the paranormal events that are unfolding to bring about the apocalypse.
Katrina Van Tassel, who his Ichabod’ wife, was a witch who cast the spell to tie Ichabod and the Horseman together. She herself has been imprisoned in an alternate dimension by the person trying to bring about the end of the world. In the season finale of Sleepy Hollow Abbie Mills takes Katrina’s place in the alternative dimension so that Katrina can return to Sleepy Hollow with Ichabod and help stop the impending apocalypse.
Even though the elements of the show seem like they shouldn’t work well together the talented writers and producers have managed to create a cohesive show that fans really enjoy. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for American history, folk tales, the paranormal and crime drama to all flow together seamlessly but on Sleepy Hollow they all fit beautifully together. The show’s cast and crew managed to create a delightful alternative reality that is easy for fans to embrace. And fans have embraced the show by the millions.
Another factor working against the show’s success is that none of the roles are played by well-known actors. All of the faces playing the main characters were new to audiences when the show debuted. Having an ensemble cast without a well-known star as an anchor to tie the cast together was a big risk. But since all of the actors were on equal footing they managed to form a cohesive unit that works so well together that the story is able to flow the way it needs to so that fans can suspend their disbelief and enter the world of Sleepy Hollow.
Each year there is a new crop of TV shows that are hoping to make it through the first season. Only a handful will end up being popular enough with audiences to make it to a second season during primetime. Some will end up as season fillers, but many never make it past the first 13 episodes. Sleepy Hollow is a hit that shouldn’t have been a hit. The unlikely premise, the lack of a well-known cast, and the position of the show on a network not known for producing genre dramas were all working against the success of the show. But in spite of all the risks the show is a big hit for a network that really needed a genre hit. Thanks to the support of fans Sleepy Hollow will enter the lists against shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time for ratings in the fall. If Sleepy Hollow can continue to wow fans it will be around for a long time.