If you watch the pilot episode of the new Fox series “Sleepy Hollow,” the question that pops into your head might well be: “What's scarier? The Headless Horseman with a broad-axe? Or the Headless Horseman with a machine gun?"
Those two implements of death provide a handy metaphor for this latest incarnation of Irving's oft-told tale. The first episode is laid out in broad, cutting strokes, and the backstory details come rapid-fire at the viewer at a pace so breathless as to obscure how preposterous it all is. Not that this is a bad thing. To the contrary, the premiere of “Sleepy Hollow” might well be the most exciting, hypnotic hour of series television I have seen since “24” got the, um, axe.
This retelling of “Hollow,” from “Fringe” creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, lifts liberally not only from Irving's “Legend” but also from his tale of “Rip Van Winkle,” a man who took a 20-year nap and woke to find a changed world. Such are the circumstances of both hero Ichabod Crane and the villainous Headless Horseman, but they have been sleeping for more like 250 years.
When they awake separately near the New York “village” of Sleepy Hollow (Pop. 144,000) in 2013, Crane discovers not only the secret of his long rest but that there is more to the Horseman than originally met the eye, so to speak. The Horseman is but one of four. (Read your bible!) The Revolutionary War was about much more than independence from Britain. George Washington knew a lot more about the occult than has been widely recognized. Covens of both benevolent and evil witches have been fighting turf wars in the colonies for centuries. And so-on.
Crane (Tom Mison) is redefined in this outing as an upright former British soldier-turned-spy for George Washington during the Revolution. In what appeared to be a battle to the death with a masked Hessian mercenary for the British, Crane, himself mortally wounded, decapitated his adversary and unknowingly created the Headless Horseman. Fast-forward to the present, and Crane awakens in a cave, walks to town and meets up with his new partner, the intrepid sheriff's deputy Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). Abbie, it turns out, is also linked to the unfolding events by an unsettling occurrence from her childhood. The two must work together if the mysteries of the Horseman and those he represents are to be unraveled.
It's all crazy, ridiculous nonsense, but so much fun. Smart-alecky dialogue, great visuals, the occasional poignant moment and just the right amount of doom-laden music. “Sleepy Hollow” seems to be laying the groundwork for a viewing appointment with thrill-a-minute supernatural intrigue and action. It will be interesting to see if the breathless pace and wit of the pilot can be maintained on a weekly basis.
"Sleepy Hollow" trailer