"Evil has returned to Sleepy Hollow."
So said Ichabod Crane during the season three return Thursday night of Fox's "Sleepy Hollow." But the bigger question looms: will viewers give the show another chance?
After a strong season one, "Sleepy Hollow" lost several million viewers season two as the show focused too much on unlikable characters. Fox almost cancelled it.
Instead, producers are making major changes in hopes of drawing disenchanted fans back. One big difference shouldn't be readily apparent to the casual viewer: "Sleepy Hollow" moved its home base from Wilmington, N.C. to Conyers because North Carolina trimmed its tax credits for production companies.
What viewers will notice are major casting changes and a fresh demonic force named Pandora.
"Sleepy Hollow," which features an 18th century Crane in 21st century New York working with a modern-day investigator, nixed several characters entering season three. Among those who have disappeared: Ichabod's son Jeremy Crane (John Noble), artifacts dealer Nick Hawley (Matt Barr) and Ichabod's wife Katrina (Katia Winter), an unpopular witch character killed off during the season 2 finale. Orlando Jones' Captain John Irving won't return either.
Fox brought in a new show runner Clifton Campbell, the person who runs day-to-day operations, plus three new regular characters including former flames of the two main characters Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison). Joe Corbin (Zach Appelman), the son of a mysterious Sleepy Hollow police captain who is now dead, was promoted to full-time status and will work closely with Abbie's sister Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood) to fight off Pandora and figure out other mysteries of what his father was about.
The original archives room was rebuilt from scratch in a Conyers studio. Lawrenceville now masquerades as the New York town of Sleepy Hollow. Pandora's newly built lair looks like it could have been stolen off the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" set in all its dark, dank glory.
Atlanta, he noted, has more places to choose from to film than Wilmington, but the traffic can be a challenge as well. "We're quite far out of town," Cassells said. "Making a move is time consuming. We try to shoot around Conyers as much as possible."
For the season three return Wednesday, nine months have passed. Police lieutenant Abbie has been promoted to the FBI and Crane has returned from a nine-month overseas trip. They hadn't kept in touch, what with Crane's lack of dexterity with Facebook and texting.
The first episode re-focuses on Abbie and Ichabod as they try to grapple with this new evil force while keeping the banter light. At one point, they seek out a historical document at a restaurant called Colonial Times where Ichabod expresses proper disgust with the lack of 18th century authenticity. ("Eggs Benedict Arnold? For shame! For shame!" he tsk-tsks.)
"There is mini-golf in the back," Abbie offers.
On set last week, while taping the seventh episode, Beharie said she and Ichabod are "more focused but also weary of Pandora. She brings all these monsters out of her box and causes havoc. The monsters are deeply personal to the characters and disarms us. The last two seasons, we've relied on our intellect and our muscle to get through things. Now we have to be more resilient emotionally and rely on each other in different ways."
But Greenwood, who plays Jenny, said, "We are not taking ourselves quite as seriously. There is a lot more fun ot be had. I personally really value that. People will have a lot of fun."
One of the more intriguing newbies is Betsy Ross, known as America's flag creator but on "Sleepy Hollow" plays a wily spy for George Washington and love interest to Crane in 18th century flashbacks.
"I have an immense appreciation for the sets and costumes, the hair and makeup and the process to create this character," gushed Nikki Reed, who plays Ross and happens to be married to "Vampire Diaries" star Ian Somerhalder, who shoots not far from "Sleepy Hollow." "I love the world they've created for us. It's like shooting a movie every nine days."
She loved the sword fighting. "She's a ninja," Reed said. "She brings the total element of surprise" to unsuspecting Redcoats.
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