Book Thoughts: Rip Van Winkle

I recently read Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” and since Sundance currently has a drama based on the story in development, I thought it was worth a post. First of all: I really enjoyed the story; I like Irving’s writing style, and this story, like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” was really funny. I’d known the most basic of outlines – that it was about a man who accidentally falls asleep for years – but I hadn’t known about the ghost bowling (until they started talking about it on Classic Alice) or that it was set amid political turmoil – or that the title character was partially trying to avoid his wife and his family responsibilities. And probably my favorite small detail was the way the portrait of George III that is at the local bar when Rip falls asleep has been edited into George Washington by the time he wakes up – but it’s still the same painting.

So how about the show? It’s tentatively called Crack in the Sky and it’s about “a Don Draper-type who falls asleep in 1962 and wakes up in 2012.” In the original, Rip sleeps through the entire American Revolution and wakes up in a different country in a very literal sense; do we think the changes of the past fifty years – politically, culturally, technologically – are of similar magnitude? And what position will the show take in regards to those changes? Will Rip’s Draper-esque values be seen as charming and chivalrous, or backward-thinking? I hope they don’t fall into the trap of completely glorifying the “good old days” of even more inequality and fewer civil rights in the name of style – but at the same time, I always get annoyed when time traveling characters’ worldviews adapt too quickly to their new environments. Speaking of Irving, Sleepy Hollow, which obviously borrows a bit from “Rip Van Winkle,” usually does a pretty good job of dealing with these issues. Hopefully Crack in the Sky, if it happens, will live up to this modern Irving adaptation precedent.

TV Updates: Bitten, The Alienist, Rip Van Winkle, Capitol Crimes

BittenSPACE has renewed Bitten for a second season to air in 2015. So far as I know, no word yet on whether Syfy will show it.

Anonymous Content is developing a show based on Caleb Carr’s The Alienist.

Sundance is developing a Rip Van Winkle show.

Eric Overmyer will run Capitol Crimes, a show in development based on Warren Adler’s novels.

Sleepy Hollow (EP101): “Pilot”


The first thing we should say here, right up front, is that Sleepy Hollow is completely insane. And I mean this in a good way, at least mostly. There’s not just time travel, but also witchcraft, and not just witchcraft but dueling covens. Not just a headless horseman, but the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Not just modern conspiracies and cover-ups, but a Revolutionary War-era conspiracy involving George Washington and his personal Bible. But these elements, many of them more than enough to anchor a show in their own right, combined to make a thoroughly entertaining hour of television.

This isn’t a bad thing, but I was startled by just how little the show was based on the original Irving story. There’s the town, which is a real village in New York, and the idea that it’s a sort of magnet for the supernatural. The concept of the headless horseman comes from the original, of course, as do a few details about him, such as the fact that he was a mercenary in the Revolutionary War and the brand on his hand. And the names “Ichabod Crane” and “Katrina” are found in the story, though the actual original characters have absolutely nothing to do with the characters on the show.

To me, though, it’s actually good that Ichabod’s character is completely different in the show. The Ichabod of the story, a foolish schoolteacher, was not the kind of person you’d particularly want to watch on TV every week. The Ichabod of the show – faithful British soldier turned rebel spy, who somehow had time to marry a local witch (?) – is much more interesting, and dripping with charisma even as he tries to figure out the foreign time into which he’s thrust. He figures it out a little too easily, really, helped by Abbie Mills, a young, ambitious detective who maybe also comes to believe Ichabod’s story too easily – but this convenience is mostly saved by her backstory, which gives her reason to buy into the supernatural while also remaining thoroughly grounded in the established mythology of the town.

The cast was solid, led by Tom Mison and Nicole Beharie, who even in the midst of the drama and action of the episode had a very fun, funny dynamic with plenty of chemistry. (I suppose they’re probably going to end up with some sort of “will they or won’t they?” thing here, though I’d be happy with these two as friends.) I’m intrigued by Orlando Jones’s character and exactly what he does or doesn’t know about what’s going on, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the town in general. The music, too, was wonderful, with instrumentals setting the scene perfectly and a great use of “Sympathy for the Devil” at the beginning and end.

The pilot had a heck of a lot to establish in one hour, and some of it seemed rushed or confusing, but that’s a relatively common issue with pilots for mythology-heavy shows. As I mentioned, Ichabod adapts remarkably well to technology and the modern world, except when the show wants to make a joke about it. And it’s (probably intentionally) unclear how or whether we’re supposed to suspect that the threads of mythology meet up. (Is the secret in Washington’s Bible the same as the secret the modern sheriff was investigating? Or are they discrete parts of a larger issue?)

I can’t wait to see more, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show works on a week-to-week basis – will Abbie and company, who are after all police detectives, be investigating a crime of the week as they try to unravel the central mystery of (and with) Ichabod? Will the crimes of the week all be supernatural? Are there different kinds of monsters lurking in Sleepy Hollow?

So, who watched? What did you think?

Discussion: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Sleepy Hollow premieres tonight on Fox at 9/8c – here are some previews and clips – so hey, no time like the present to discussion the source material: the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. (If you haven’t read it yet, you can do so online for free.) I realized I’d never actually read the story before, though we watched the 1958 Disney cartoon in middle school, and I was surprised by how faithful an adaptation turned out to be.

In general, I enjoyed the story – the first Irving I’ve read, I think – and there were a few points I wanted to mention:

1) I suspected this from the cartoon, but I was struck by the way there were really no definite supernatural elements in the story at all. And I think I liked it better that way – it was more interesting as a tongue-in-cheek humorous tale than the “ghost story” people sometimes make it out to be.

2) I was especially struck by how different the Ichabod Crane of the story was from the main character of the show (or at least how he seems in previews and clips). I knew he was a schoolteacher, not a military hero, but the foolish dandy of the story seems pretty different from the clever, dedicated character we seem to be getting on the show. And, of course, the story is set well after the Revolutionary War, not during it, and Ichabod courts Katrina but certainly doesn’t marry her.

3) I loved all the descriptions of old Dutch New York farms and food – some of it was pretty close to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, actually – and I hope the show maintains Ichabod’s food obsession, because that would be fun.

4) As I’m sure others noticed, there were plenty of pretty terrible racial and ethnic descriptions and references in the story. This was, of course, standard for the time in which Irving lived and wrote, and I’m not holding them against him specifically. But it did make me think about the way the show will have to deal with Ichabod being thrust into a world that thinks very differently from his world.

Anyone else read it? Any thoughts? What elements do you hope do or don’t transfer over to the show?

Sleepy Hollow Premieres Tonight: Promos & Clips

Sleepy HollowSleepy Hollow premieres tonight on Fox at 9/8c, and the network has released a few promos and several clips from the episode. Want to see?

Promo: “Event of the Fall”

Promo: “Reborn”

Clip: “First Glimpse”

Clip: “Court Order”

Clip: “A Whole New Day”

Clip: “Marked Mercenary”

Clip: “Cut Off His Head”

Read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for Free!

Sleepy HollowI’m planning to read Washington Irving’s story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” this weekend to prepare for the premiere of Sleepy Hollow on Fox on Monday, and hey, I thought you might like to join me. Since the story was published in 1820, it’s in the public domain and you can read it online for free. Here’s the ebook at Project Gutenberg, with options for plain text, Kindle file, and more. Librivox has a free audio version. And Wikipedia has links to several other online versions as well. Of course, if you’d rather buy a paper book, those are available as well. Get reading and then come discuss it with me on Monday!

And speaking of Sleepy Hollow, you should also head over to Give Me My Remote for new video interviews with EPs Alex Kurtzman, Mark Goffman, and Len Wiseman as well as star Orlando Jones. Enjoy!

Trailer: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow

The Legend of Smurfy HollowI know we’re all excited for Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, but that’s not the only adaptation of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” headed our way in the next few weeks: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow is headed straight to DVD on September 10th, and you can preorder your copy now. And it seems that our little blue friends are not newcomers to the art of literary adaptation: 2011’s The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol is also hitting DVD next week.

Sleepy Hollow Behind-the-Scenes Video: “Remix”

Sleepy HollowSleepy Hollow premieres on Fox in a little under three weeks, and the network has released a new behind-the-scenes video. In it, co-creators/EPs Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, EP/director Len Wiseman, and stars Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, and Orlando Jones discuss the process of making something new out of the classic Washington Irving story and keeping the horror and action elements grounded in an emotional reality. Enjoy!