If you’re gearing up to enter the world of Fox’s new Sleepy Hollow TV series tonight, you should know something up front: This show’s more loopy than a freshly decapitated rolling head. Witches, Biblical prophecies and the devil? I haven’t even gotten to the Headless Horseman who by the end of the 1-hour mark is pumping a semi-automatic shotgun like the fevered culmination of a Quentin Tarantino Halloween movie! Sleepy Hollowis on a network, right?Yes, Fox has adapted, in the loosest sense possible, one of the great works of American literature: Washington Irving’s treasured short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” However, if the thought of Tim Burton turning Irving’s meek ne’er-do-well schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, into a foppishly effeminate New York detective was too much to take in 1999, then look out now.For 2013 television, the story begins with Ichabod Crane wielding his sword almost as well as his rifle in the American Revolution while wearing blue. Well actually, he was originally a red coat who had a change of heart when he got to the colonies, prompting him to switch sides and become General George Washington’s personal spy…Point is that he is fighting the good fight for the Thirteen when he manages to decapitate an ominously masked Hessian, but not before the soon-to-be headless bastard gives Crane a good stabbing. Cut to Crane waking up in a present day cave surrounded by artifacts of eerie witchcraft, and running out onto a highway where he is almost turned into road kill as the sweet sounds of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil” plays on. That’s the first four minutes.Sleepy Hollowis obviously building itself to be a supernaturally tinged police procedural to run on a major network. And while the biggest components of that formula creep around the edges of this pilot, for at least this first hour the series has done a fantastic job of feeling fresh, offbeat and kooky enough to make it all seem new.The show’s two pleasant leads are Tom Mison as Crane and Nicole Beharie. Not too much is known about Crane that I have not already explained, save for that he left behind a wife in Revolutionary New York, Katrina Crane (Katia Winter), a woman with an inner-light that long glowed. It is somewhat disappointing to have a decidedly British interpretation as the protagonist of America’s first true fairy tale, but Mison does a splendid job of combining proper humor with an endearing level of camp to his wide-eyed “the end is nigh” monologuing. He spends much of the pilot bouncing off other characters for his fish-out-of-water deadpanning, and none handle it better than Beharie’s Abbie.Abbie is a fast-rising star at the Westchester County Sheriff Office with only a week to go before she departs for the FBI. At least that’s the plan until things come to a head. She is mentored by a gruff but lovable partner played with surprising warmth by Clancy Brown. But just a head’s up, don’t get too attached to this one. Soon they are directly confronted with a risen headless horseman, and having never heard any local tales in this universe, are surprised to discover what his favorite pastime ends up being.For reasons not entirely clear, Ichabod is blamed for the slaying of a police officer and his ramblings about George Washington do not exactly help his case. A cast of supporting cops at the sheriff’s office all, at least deceptively, fit genre archetypes when they try to dissuade Abbie from interrogating the handsome, well mannered, and exceedingly charismatic crazy person. But with her own history in the supernatural from a mysterious childhood, Abbie quickly finds the show’s core when Ichabod rides shotgun into her investigations.Within the hour she teaches Ichabod about emancipation, women’s lib and why logic dictates the need for a Starbucks on every corner. “Is there a law?” he politely inquires. Conversely, he teaches her about The Book of Revelations and a secret mission General Washington invested in him, upon which the fate of humanity rests. Not so coincidentally, it is tied to the Headless Horseman who rose from the grave at the exact same moment as he did. Indeed, according to Ichabod and another bewitching surprise, the Headless Horseman is death himself, the first onslaught of the Four Horseman made flesh.
This is a whacky show that, at least for the moment, appears to be more than just a procedural. Like a homemade Halloween costume, it is a pastiche of all the pop culture trends that have likely appealed to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness), as well as the pilot’s director Len Wiseman (Underworld). There is the obvious touch of Burton with the truly headless horseman and his cauterizing blade (though not even Holy Ground fazes him now), but Wiseman just as liberally pulls from the opening scenes of Burton’s Dark Shadows (that movie’s only cool moment) as he does from the other 18th century-bound Burton adventure. Witches also make an appearance, as it becomes quickly evident that the Hessian’s resurrection is directly tied to a pair of mysterious covens doing battle among the original three colonies through the centuries. Indeed, the first soldier of whom reveals himself within the hour with a hellacious payoff. Throw in a dash of Dan Brown and Assassin’s Creed history mad libs, and then shake thoroughly. That’s roughly what to expect from Sleepy Hollow.The disparate pieces are thrown together in such an entertaining way, it is a shame that it is held down by the more trite and well-worn confines of the procedural formula. There is the no-nonsense, perpetually pissed off disapproving boss (Orlando Jones), who still somehow seems remarkably okay with letting a cop killer walk free, as well as the sympathetic and overly protective love interest with his own dark history (John Cho). The show smartly turns some conventions on its head, but it is apparent by the show’s closing five minutes that the format will eventually bend to formula in service of longevity.Nonetheless, if Sleepy Hollowcan still find a devilish way of subverting at least some of these tropes, as it does with horror movie glee during the episode’s very last half minute, then it is going to be a wild ride alongside this horseman. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the revelations to come.Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars