Arguably Hollywood’s most time-honored tactic for injecting a sense of the mystical and mysterious into a production is borrowing from the Bible. Sometimes the gambit scores (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lost), sometimes it doesn’t (End of Days). Whether it will work for Fox’s new Monday-night fantasy, Sleepy Hollow, remains to be seen, but the early numbers look promising—the show’s first outing on Sept. 16 gave the network its highest-rated drama premiere in six years.
Turning Washington’s Irving classic tale on its, ahem, head, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) becomes a dashing revolutionary war hero who travels 250 years into the future. The last thing he remembers is lopping off the head of an enormous horseman with an arrow mark burned into his hand. Unfortunately for Ichabod, the horseman has also found his way to 21st century New England and is resuming his bloody work.
From there, Hollow weaves a lot of plot threads together in too short a time. Ichabod’s wife, Katrina, was part of a coven of “good witches” working to prevent the events foretold in Revelation, a plan George Washington may or may not have been in on. The only person who believes Ichabod’s tale is local police officer Abbie (Nicole Beharie), who has her own supernatural past.
Beyond a refreshingly positive take on the founding fathers, Hollow’s saving grace is its willingness to embrace the inherent campiness of its premise with frequent fish-out-of-water jokes. Ichabod wonders if the government mandates a certain number of Starbucks per town and whether Abbie, who is African-American, has been emancipated. While certainly not a show for younger viewers, for all the head-lopping, the blood in the premiere is kept to a relative minimum. Unfortunately, common primetime-level swearing is not.
More troubling is a witchcraft element combined with the notion that the final judgment is something humans can prevent. For all the allusions to the apostle John’s prophecies, God isn’t mentioned in the first episode and it seems to be solely occult forces driving the action. Even for a lighthearted fantasy series, that’s a pretty dark worldview.