Remember “New Amsterdam,” a 2008 Fox series starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a crime-solving immortal? The network and the producers of “Sleepy Hollow” — another Fox drama built around an anachronistic, colonial-era protagonist who looks surprisingly robust in the present day — is surely hoping you don’t. Bringing a swashbuckling Ichabod Crane into the 21st century, the series is filled with mythological mumbo-jumbo and has some fun playing off the past a la “National Treasure.” Still, the concept raises questions not only about the horseman’s absence of a head, but in commercial terms, its wobbly set of legs as well.
Crane (played by Tom Mison), it turns out, wasn’t the bookish fop of literature but rather a spy for Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War, during which he beheaded a Hessian soldier. Both are brought wrenchingly back to life in modern-day New England, where Ichabod is joined with a local cop (Nicole Beharie) seeking to thwart this bizarre new threat.
Because all that might not sustain a movie, much less an episodic run, series creators Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove and Len Wiseman (of the “Underworld” movies, who also directed the pilot) load up “Sleepy Hollow” with lots of portentous stuff about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, lines like “He is death itself” and exposition about the Headless Horseman’s origins, along with dollops of magic and/or witchcraft pertaining to Crane’s late (or maybe not-so-late) wife (Katia Winter).
While the show is certainly handsomely done, the fish-out-of-water dialogue already feels a little green around the gills (Crane is stunned to see a woman wearing “trousers,” much less an “emancipated” black woman being a cop; and baffled by the sight of a Starbucks on every corner). And the initial race for an artifact to help Crane defeat the Horseman — who goes very 21st century by arming himself, absurdly, with an automatic weapon — suggests there will be a lot of galloping around week to week intended to get the pulse stirring without advancing the central storyline.
Stripped of the mythology, the show is an enterprising way to try to revive something like “The X-Files,” and Fox deserves some credit for returning to this sort of high-concept gambit despite the high risk and (with the exception of NBC’s modestly rated “Grimm”) relatively low success rate lately by broadcast standards.
Still, once you’ve gotten past the image of the Headless Horseman racing down a modern paved street, it’s uncertain how many will want to book an extended stay in “Sleepy Hollow,” which warrants a second look primarily to see whether the pilot was just another one-trick pony.