Ichabod Crane is feverishly fighting Redcoats during the Revolutionary War when a masked dude on a tall white horse takes him on. After a struggle, Crane swiftly beheads the guy with his sword and then collapses. When he returns to consciousness, he is climbing out of the dirt and a couple of centuries have passed.
I hate it when that happens.
“Sleepy Hollow” is a new Fox series, Monday at 9, that borrows very loosely from the Washington Irving story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The creators use only a few Irving ingredients — the name Ichabod Crane, the New York state setting, the headless horseman, the object of desire named Katrina. Then they add them to a mixing bowl of disparate but familiar supernatural tropes — one cup of Salem-styled witchery, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and one magical skull, whole. Then they fold in a crusty entombment, bake for 232 years, and voila!
You have one of the most complex and mixed-up and irritating mythology soufflés ever to be delivered in a single pilot.
The show starts nicely, as Crane, now a handsome hero played by British actor Tom Mison, wakes and quickly finds himself face to face with an African-American police detective. “You’ve been emancipated, I take it,” he says to her. Rather than another humorless fantasy TV story, “Sleepy Hollow” initially seems as though it won’t be taking itself too seriously. When the headless horseman appears in town on his white horse, a cop pulls his gun and yells, “Put your hands on your. . . ”
The cop, Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), is thrown by Crane’s racial insult, but she soon realizes that the man is either crazy or a time traveler and that he deserves her sympathy either way. They form an unusual and promising buddy unit. “You’re not going to break character?,” she asks, when he continues to insist that he served under George Washington. Also, the special effects involving Ichabod’s reemergence from a grave onto a two-lane blacktop are well-done and the pacing is brisk thanks to smart directorial choices. The stage is set for some smartly produced and imagined supernatural drama.
And then the backstory begins to surface, and it gums up the works in a big way. There are super-duper important artifacts, there are mysterious prophesies, there are visions of Katrina (Katia Winter), who was burned as a witch and who has plenty to add to the already overly twisty situation. I suppose the dense and far-reaching mythology involving Crane and the headless horseman will provide the writers with years of excavation and complication, if the show catches on; but it doesn’t offer the viewer much more than a headache.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.