September 18, 2013

TV: Sleepy Hollow (Mon 9, Fox)

Every year, we get one or two pilots that are so loopy, so willing to leap cheerfully into full-on crazy, that I watch with amazement. Usually, such pilots are obviously doomed from the start (see, for instance, last year's Cult or Zero Hour); occasionally, such a show is miraculously able to maintain its special brand of weird for a season or two (we still miss you, Pushing Daisies). This year's "how long can they possibly keep this up" pilot is Sleepy Hollow.

We open in 1781, on a Revolutionary War battlefield where Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is battling a masked horseman. Crane plugs several rounds into him; he keeps coming. Crane chops his head off, and he still keeps coming, knocking Crane to the ground, apparently dead.

But wait! Not quite dead yet, it seems, because we leap forward to the present day, where Crane suddenly wakes up in an underground cave, not having aged a day. And it seems that his old foe the horseman, still headless, is running around Sleepy Hollow chopping off people's heads. Crane is inevitably arrested, and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) finds herself taking his bizarre story seriously, because strange things have happened to her in Sleepy Hollow, and she knows what it is to be thought crazy.

And things only get nuttier from there, with Crane reading key passages from George Washington's own bible (note to producers: It's the book of Revelation, not Revelations), and discovering some sort of horrifying historical/supernatural conspiracy involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (of whom the Headless Horseman is apparently one), and Ichabod and Abbie are apparently fated to spend the next seven years working to prevent the evil from taking over the world. (Seven years, huh? Why, that just happens to be the length of an actor's standard TV series contract. If nothing else, you have to admire the optimism.)

Mison and Beharie, both new to American TV, are a terrific central pair, though I'm already scared that the show will be unable to resist making them a romantic couple. (They may be deterred by the fact that Crane is married, and that his wife occasionally visits him in visions.) The show's absolute commitment to its goofball premise is commendable, and the whole thing is strangely entertaining in a way that has you screaming "oh, come on" at the TV every five or six minutes. (Who knew, for instance, that Revolutionary War nurses displayed such ample cleavage?)

It's almost certainly going to come crashing down in spectacular style, but I'll keep watching, just to see how long the show can keep walking its unlikely tightrope.

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