Where Sleepy is anything but

With his satiric tales of Dutch and English settlers in the Hudson Valley, Tarrytown’s Washington Irving has long been a literary voice of WAG country. Recently, however, that voice has been tweaked – OK, overhauled – by the new hit Fox series “Sleepy Hollow.” Let’s just say the series – which has been renewed for a second season and is driving media and tourists to the Hudson Valley – is Irving meets Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” meets “The Da Vinci Code” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Irving would be spinning in his grave. And that would be nothing compared with the freaky goings-on in the seemingly quaint Westchester village.

When Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) of the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department investigates the beheading of her beloved mentor, Sheriff August Corbin, she soon realizes his death is part of a string of decapitations carried out by the Headless Horseman of Irving’s tale. But he’s no ordinary serial killer, I mean, apart from the no-head look. No, HH is actually Death, one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (see the Book of Revelation, folks), and Abbie is one of two individuals who’s been called either to witness the destruction of the world or end it. The other is an Anglo-American gent, one Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), who’s been awakened from a slumber of 250 years (Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” sprinkled with his “Rip Van Winkle”). This Ichabod is no gangly laughingstock of a schoolmaster out of his league in his quest for the hand of nubile heiress Katrina Van Tassel, but a dashing Oxford prof turned redcoat turned American revolutionary turned double agent for General George Washington, whose Bible and map of the Hudson Valley are the keys to the final battle between good and evil (get out your “Da Vinci Code”). Being “tall, dark and British,” as Abbie’s sister likes to point out, this Ichabod has long since wooed and won his Katrina (Katia Winter), a glamorous witch who resides in a mist-filled nether-woods and who cast a deep sleep over her darling hubby for his own protection.

Still with us? Good, because it’s actually kind of fun, with Ichabod reacting with marvel to the newfangled world in which he finds himself – taken aback literally as he turns on the shower, constantly playing with the car windows, congratulating the consternated Abbie on her “emancipation.” (She’s African-American.)

She and he have a snappy rapport, while he and Katrina have a sexy one. And in late, lamented “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fashion, the show is smart enough to pace the overarching theme – apocalyptic Westchester – with episodic appearances by Native American shamans, Tea Partiers (the real ones, from Boston), the Sandman (no, not Mariano Rivera), sin-eaters and assorted witches.

Local viewers will enjoy Hollywood’s reinvention of the East once again. (The show is shot in Wilmington, N.C.) There are stock views of the Hudson River. Otherwise, “Sleepy Hollow” plays fast and loose with the geographic truth, as in its scenes of the “Tarrytown Psychiatric Unit.”

Best of all is Mison’s Ichabod, who is not only gorgeous but sounds gorgeous as well. He’s a classically trained actor who’s played the Bard’s Prince Hal. It’s really worth tuning in just to hear his Ichabod remonstrate in clipped, posh tones over “the tariff on baked goods” (colonial-speak for the tax on doughnut holes).

Turning Irving’s nerd into a dreamboat is nothing new. (See Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s 1999 film “Sleepy Hollow.”) But Depp, as usual, added some Deppisms to offset his beauty, making Ichabod a Mr. Monk-like New York City copper out of his element among shifty Dutch burghers in the ’burbs.

Mison’s Ichabod isn’t afraid to be nerdy and commanding by turns – a guy guy.

Come to think of it, Irving would probably be pleased. But not before he checked the overnight Nielsens.

Watch “Sleepy Hollow” 9 p.m. Mondays on Fox. And for more on Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Sunnyside, his home in Tarrytown, visit hudsonvalley.org



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