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Fall Pilots: Sleepy Hollow

by Zan Romanoff

September 17, 2013 | 8:54 am

So I should say out the outset: pilots are never particularly good. There's just too much narrative work to be done, too many threads to set up and too many characters to introduce, for them to ever feel natural, fluid or particularly fun. Which is to say that standards are going to be low around here for the next few weeks, because it's pretty much wall to wall pilots interrupted by the occasional return premiere through the end of the month. On the other hand: so much new television! And last night kicked off with one of the pilots I was most excited about, FOX's Sleepy Hollow adaptation.

It's the right season for a classic American horror story, for dark nights and crisp leaves and priests beheaded in graveyards. The episode opens on a Revolutionary War battle with our hero, the staggeringly handsome Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) decapitating a masked man as he's felled by one of his enemy's blows. He wakes up and crawls out of his grave nearly 250 years later and wanders out onto Sleepy Hollow's modern city streets only to get stopped by the cops and accused of murder. Detective Abbie Mills' (Nicole Beharie) partner has just been himself beheaded, and everyone but Abbie, who briefly saw the killer, thinks Ichabod is the culprit. (They also, of course, think he is insane.)

Abbie has another reason to listen to Ichabod: she and her sister had a supernatural encounter of their own as children and the sister has never quite recovered, drifting in and out of institutions. The pilot takes place over the course of a single long, dark night on which the aforementioned priest bites the dust and we learn that the now-Headless Horseman is a harbinger of the apocalypse, and that it's up to Ichabod and Abby, two Witnesses, to stop that from happening. They have to keep him from reuniting with his head-- while he's in pieces he can only come out at night-- and fight the plagues of demons and monsters that will attempt to pave the way for his colleagues. Much of this is communicated to Ichabod in a dream by his late wife, who was, we learn, a witch while she lived. It's obviously a device to cram more exposition in but it's not all that distracting, and it allows a lot of clarity in the pilot that shows like this one sometimes miss. 

It was competent and occasionally funny (though I'm worried about a season full of CGI demons which, on anything other than a massive budget tend to look pretty silly) and I'll definitely be tuning in next week, which is all that you can from a pilot, really: that it gives you enough of something that you're willing to come back for more. 

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