A resurrected Revolutionary War hero, a double-ax-wielding horseman (headless), ghost trees, Colonial witches, horned beasts, ancient priests, a sassy female cop and at least one Starbucks joke?
Long before Tom Mison’s fit and dashing Ichabod Crane got around to mentioning (oh yes, he did) the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, I was hopelessly, hopefully hooked on “Sleepy Hollow,” Fox’s new literate if historically zany spook-fest of a police procedural. Too much going on in the pilot, you say? Devil take you for a coward, man, and release the Kraken!
OK, for the record, this happens every year, the show that appears Across a Crowded Room. Hope is the television critic’s superpower and Achilles heel. The new Netflixian model not withstanding, this is, so often, a job of educated soothsaying.
A few pilots make things easy by being incredibly good or tremendously bad, but most are a mix of potential glory and worrisome potholes. And every year, one of these “maybes” will catch my eye, causing hope to rise, wild and defiant: This time, things will be different. This time, things will work out perfectly and we will be so happy together.
This year, that show is “Sleepy Hollow,” brought to you by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (“Fringe,” the recent “Star Trek” films), Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” films) and Phillip Iscove.
Loosely, and we’re talking gossamer threads, based on Washington Irving’s famous tale, this modern telling turns the traditionally nebbishy schoolteacher into a dashing member of George Washington’s army who, after beheading and then killing (still, he walks!) a mysterious masked Hessian soldier, awakens to find himself in 21st century New York state (insert deep breath here).
Unfortunately, ol’ headless woke up first, ax swinging, much to the horror of local law enforcement, including and especially Lt. Abbie Mills (“42’s” Nicole Beharie), who was just about to shake the dust of this sleepy little hollow off her standard issues and go to Quantico.
When Ichabod is mistakenly arrested for the crimes (one Revolutionary War-era jacket looks much the same as another), she hears his tale of a two-century nap and believes. Well, not at first, but soon enough. They’re this season’s hottest sleuth couple, tracking down mysterious maps, investigating old graves and bantering as only an 18th century soldier (also, handily, an early abolitionist) and a modern-day black woman can.
It’s all great fun until, you know, someone loses a head. Actually, until someone finds a head. For reasons known only to its creators, the pilot for “Sleepy Hollow” seems determined to jam into one hour what could have easily, and more enjoyably, been spun out over several.
Indeed, so much happens that by the end of the pilot, it’s not quite clear where the story is going to go next. It seems crossing “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with “National Treasure” was seriously discussed.
Me, I choose to ignore the potential problems (Washington was really fighting the devil, I can’t hear you la, la, la, la, and who gave that horseman automatic weapons?) in favor of the positives. Of which there are many, including strong performances from both leads — Mison was last seen in HBO’s “Parade’s End,” Beharie in “42" and “Shame,” (seriously, welcome to television, Nicole Beharie ) — several nicely creepy story lines, some terrific CG action. And of course, a great location.
Irving’s original Sleepy Hollow teemed with ghosts and ghoulies, real and imagined. That’s his story, and I’m stickin’ with it.
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)