Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lurid "Legend"

I'm not a TV watcher, I've never seen an episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad. I certainly don't denigrate people who watch TV, it's just not my bag. That being said, because it is of local interest, I watched the pilot episode of Sleepy Hollow on the internet last night. Longtime readers will know that I am a Sleepy Hollow purist, even though The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is not a legend (it is a short story written in England in 1820 by American author Washington Irving, under the psedonym "Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman" and attributed by "Crayon" to the fictional "narrator" Diedrich Knickerbocker) and there was no Village of Sleepy Hollow until 1996 (the village was called North Tarrytown, and the name "Sleepy Hollow" was coined by Irving to describe the valley of the Pocantico River).

On the most basic level, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is freely available online, is a humorous story about a guy who, after attending a party, is chased by what he thinks is a headless horseman . The perennial popularity of the story is that it works on so many levels- it can be read as a story of the conflict between the Dutch settlers of the Hudson River Valley and an "English" interloper, or a tale of rivalry between a mischievous rustic bruiser and an effete, "citified" pseudointellectual, or a satire of a wannabe nouveau riche striver seeking to marry into old money. There's a lot of backstory, much of it implied, to the simple chase narrative that forms the climax of the story.

Most recent "adaptations" of the story eschew the rational explanation of the events of the story (I view it as a "spiritual ancestor" of the orginal Scooby Doo, Where Are You! (sic), and bring in supernatural elements (oddly enough, Ichabod Crane's superstitious credulousness is portrayed as a humorous quirk and a possibly fatal flaw, a fact that is lost on those who have adapted the story). TV's Sleepy Hollow is firmly in the "supernatural thriller" camp. Spoilers will abound ahead, so be forewarned... I'll post the trailer for the show, and there will be spoilers ahead:





The tagline of the show could very well have been: "Ichabod Crane: He's back from the dead, and ready to kick ass!" Rather than Irving's Ichabod Crane, a neurotic and greedy yet somehow likeable geek, the Crane of the show is a man of action, a former British redcoat who deserted and joined the revolution, becoming a "special agent" for George Washington. After a harrowing encounter in which he beheads a masked "Hessian" who bears a startling resemblance to The Lord Humungus, Crane ends up in suspended animation for more than two centuries. When he comes to, he finds that himself arrested by local law enforcement officers. Meanwhile, a young police lieutenant, Abby Mills, witnesses the death of her avuncular captain (played by one of my favorite actors, Clancy Brown- as an aside, Clancy Brown and James Earl Jones, the two best voices in Hollywood, should collaborate on a show, just for the sheer awesomeness of hearing them talk) at the hands of a headless dude. Eventually, she meets with Ichabod and the two realize that they are bound by fate to combat the Headless Horseman, who is implied to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The show provided about forty-five minutes of goofy, lurid fun. The two leads have good chemistry as a mismatched pair forced into a collaboration by circumstances that seem to be spiraling out of control. The character of Lieutenant Abby Mills is a strong, capable African-American female whose interactions with the temporally-unmoored Crane are played for understated comic relief. When Crane unthinkingly observes that she has been emancipated from slavery, she reminds him that she is a lieutenant in the Westchester County police force, and quips that she is authorized to use her gun on him, which elicits a stammering assertion from Crane that he has long supported the abolitionists' cause.

The basic plot has Lieutenant Mills and Ichabod Crane piecing together the phenomena that have led to the resurrection of both Crane and the Horseman. Through the course of the pilot, it is revealed that the town of Sleepy Hollow, and the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, is home to two conflicting covens of "witches", some who are trying to hasten the end of the world, and others who are trying to thwart their nefarious plot. Some characters are revealed to be participants in the conflict, and Abby reveals that she and her sister encountered a supernatural evil that unhinged her sister... it's revealed that Crane's wife, a good witch who is based on the character of Katrina Van Tassel from the original story, had encountered the same supernatural force. The pilot set up a bunch of potential plot threads, and I imagine that most of the fun that will be provided by the series involves trying to figure out the various supernatural allegiances of the townspeople. In particular, police chief Irving (named after Washington Irving?), played by talented comedian and character actor Orlando Jones has a couple of "ominous" scenes in the pilot. Thankfully, the show eschews that all-too-common "fantasy skepticism" that a mars the "suspension of disbelief" of too many supernatural thrillers-- the characters, confronted repeatedly by tall, dark, and headless and his trail of decapitated victims, don't insist that the monster is not real. Similarly, the in-show reality does not include the Headless Horseman, or Ichabod Crane, for that matter, as well-known characters. Sorry, there's no room for a Horseman Restaurant in the TV Sleepy Hollow.

Now, as to local content, which is the sole reason I watched the show... while the show was largely filmed in North Carolina, there are plenty of aerial shots of the genuine Sleepy Hollow, which establish a sense of place. Starting at the three-and-a-half minute mark, a camera follows a southbound train on the Metro North Hudson line and at the 3:38 mark there is a great shot of the Philipsburg Manor historic site, specifically the 17th century manor house and the New World Dutch barn. If I'm not mistaken, the overhead shot at 10:45 in the show is the Broadway (Route 9)/Bedford Rd (Route 448) intersection, but I would have to do a drive-by to verify the landmarks. At the 17:03 mark, there is a great overhead shot of the Old Dutch Church and the ODC and Sleepy Hollow Cemeteries. At the 26:28 mark, the Hudson River can be seen in the upper left hand corner. At 28:27, there is a beautiful shot of the sun setting over the Western Hudson highlands, with a brief glimpse on the extreme left hand side of the Philipsburg Manor House, the Philipsburg millpond, and the curve of the Pocantico River as it flows into the mighty Hudson.

Finally, the quibbles... I can't write this without mentioning quibbles, because I revel in pedantry. One of the jokes in the show, which can be seen in the trailer, is that Starbucks are ubiquitous in Sleepy Hollow. In fact, there are no Starbucks franchises in the Village of Sleepy Hollow. If one wished to get a cup of coffee in the village, one would most likely go to the aforementioned Horseman Restaurant or perhaps get a cafe con leche at Corona's Lunch. While more of an "Easter Egg" than a quibble, the series makes a big deal about the population of Sleepy Hollow being 144,000, which is a reference to the Book of Revelation- the real village of Sleepy Hollow, as of 2010, has 9,870 residents, 51.04% of which are Hispanic, many from South America. The community portrayed in the show seems simultaneously more developed and more rural than the real Sleepy Hollow, with a couple of large buildings and undeveloped outskirts. Also, while I have seen many complaints about Katrina Crane being burned as a witch, rather than hanged (the method of execution employed by our fanatics), I am more peeved that they portrayed the witch's grave as being in consecrated ground. The Sleepy Hollow region's one witch, a midwife, herbalist, and crack shot known as "Mother Hulda", fell in a running gun battle with a British cattle rustling party and, because she wasn't an orthodox member of the Old Dutch Church congregation, was buried outside of consecrated ground, even though she routed the raiders. My biggest quibble with the pilot episode was that light didn't shine out of Clancy Brown's severed neck, but I'm a geek.

All told, the show was a bit of goofy fun, and I didn't hate it. The characters were fairly well written and the two leads were appealing and had good chemistry, essential for what boils down to a "buddy cop" show. The "fish out of water" elements were amusing without being totally farcical. I don't know if I'd make a commitment to watching the series on a regular basis, but I did enjoy playing "Hey, I know that place" during the "scene establishing" shots. If you are a fan of supernatural thrillers with some comic elements, you will probably enjoy the show. For a breakdown of the show's elements, TV Tropes has a good summary, just don't fall into the TV Tropes Time Trap... you might be trapped there for over two centuries.

7 comments:

mikey said...

Here's an interesting thing.

I noticed from much of the stuff I read online (Wired, ThinkProgress, Atlantic, The Verge, etc) that this whole end of the line for Breaking Bad was a "Major Cultural Event".

Now, I haven't actually watched any episodes of Breaking Bad in previous years, but I have paid some limited attention to the discussions online, and I really don't give a shit about so-called 'spoilers' - I read the summaries before I watch anything - so I decided to get in. I started with Ep 10 and I've ridden the whole white knuckle suicide run right down to the last episode, this Sunday.

Dood, this is some pretty good stuff. I'm sure I'm missing some nuance, but I don't care. If you saw the first season of "The Shield", you understand the power that digital TeeVee can deliver, close up and flipping the bird in your face, telling you you're going to learn something harsh, and you're going to wear it home.

There is some powerful fiction being done on the 'small' screen, and the whole concept of telling stories on video has changed - Justified, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad. These are important works that are telling us important things about who we are.

Lessons we seem unable to learn any other way...

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'm not a TV watcher, I've never seen an episode of Mad Men or Breaking Bad...

I can say the same, although I'm interested. Where I am now, we only have one channel...an NBC affiliate in Hagerstown (WHAG).

In Columbus, I just generally never turn the TV on.

I guess we're bad people, B^4...have some music!
~

John Gray said...

I am not really a tv fan
But I do love THE WALKING DEAD which is basically a rehash of the 1970 disaster movies....
The shows you mentioned I have no idea about..... But if I was in the mood for some mindless pap... SLEEPY HOLLOW sounds a rather enjoyable romp

Hey ho

Paul Avery said...

Sorry, but I hate the whole concept from the get-go. I'm not an old fuddy duddy about most matters, but I resist certain icons being gutted by pop entertainment--Don't rewrite The Scarlet Letter, don't put Somewhere Over The Rainbow to a tech rock beat and don't fuck around with Ichabod Crane!
Like most boys, I read The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, on my own, at the time I started that long and painfully awkward climb into puberty, and I associate the awkward and gullible Ichabod to that experience. I prefer to just keep it that way, thank you very much.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

There is some powerful fiction being done on the 'small' screen, and the whole concept of telling stories on video has changed - Justified, The Wire, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad. These are important works that are telling us important things about who we are.

The best thing about television is that it accomodates long, complicated narratives better than film does. It's a shame it's seen as a "lesser" medium than film.

I guess we're bad people, B^4...have some music!

Thanks, don't mind if I do!

The shows you mentioned I have no idea about..... But if I was in the mood for some mindless pap... SLEEPY HOLLOW sounds a rather enjoyable romp

It's like junk food for your brain! I enjoyed seeing local landmarks, but I don't think that's enough to keep me tuning in.

Like most boys, I read The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, on my own, at the time I started that long and painfully awkward climb into puberty, and I associate the awkward and gullible Ichabod to that experience. I prefer to just keep it that way, thank you very much.

I re-read "the legend" every year, because it is of local interest. It's funny how many people I run into who think that it's really a legend, and how many people really only know a distorted summary of the story. I'm a purist myself, but I had to watch this because of the tenuous local connections.

M. Bouffant said...

All well & good, but what of the politics?

Seeing local places on the telly is half the reason I watch these days.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I left a scathing comment at the "caller".