We'll have to see what Sleepy Hollow becomes when it grows up.
Oh, we know what it wants to be: fun, a word the producers and Fox have used so often in their sales pitch for this fantasy adventure that it might as well be a subtitle. Whether Hollow (*** out of four, Monday, 9 p.m. ET/PT) achieves that goal, however, depends in large part on what path it follows: Will it build on the humor and the central relationship that are the best parts of tonight's pilot? Or will it get lost in the coven conspiracy maze that is the worst?
Produced by Fringe's Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who know something about mazes, Sleepy Hollow boasts the season's oddest premise, a bizarre literary conceit that turns Washington Irving's cowardly Ichabod Crane (appealingly played by Tom Mison) into a hot Revolutionary War spy and hero. Having fallen in battle in grisly fashion, Ichabod awakens 250 years later, bringing with him a satanic Headless Horseman retro-fitted with a super-heated ax he immediately puts to head-chopping use.
And in case you were wondering, the "grisly" and "head-chopping" are your clues that Hollow is probably not a show for very young children.
The murders, and Ichabod's insistence that he and the Horseman are a few centuries old, naturally draw the interest of the police. The local captain (Orlando Jones) has his doubts, but Abbie (Nicole Beharie), a young detective with some supernatural secrets of her own, believes him. Which is a good thing, as it's obvious from the start that they're going to be Fringe-like partners, with Abbie serving as Olivia to Ichabod's combination of Peter and Walter Bishop.
Not that viewers are likely to complain. The scenes between Mison and the equally likable Beharie are among the show's best, from his delight at playing with her car's electric windows to her slit-eyed reaction to his shock at seeing a black woman in pants carrying a gun. They should be surprised by each other, and their interactions often reflect a natural, time-travel shock.
The oddity here is that they seem less surprised by the convoluted supernatural story spiraling around them, which they both accept with inexplicable alacrity. My long-dead wife is speaking to me in visions? Of course she is. The Horseman ties into my childhood glimpse of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Hey, why not?
Eventually, of course, characters in a fantasy usually come to take the fantastic elements for granted. But it's hard to maintain a sense of wonder when the acceptance happens this quickly, and it's hard to maintain your balance when so many long-arc plot details come at you at once.
Yet it's also clear that the show's promise of fun could still hold true. Even amid the excess exposition, you'll be able to spot a few enjoyable jolts, some clever, throwaway culture-shock moments and the charms of the show's two stars. Combined, they give the show more than enough room to grow into an entertaining weekly adventure.
We'll see if that's what it does.