Debuting on May 2 on Fox, Houdini & Doyle reeks of midseason filler and seems to have the primary point of making you long for the return of the recently wrapped and renewed Lucifer — whose 9 PM Season 1 time slot this new offering takes over. As I say in my video review above, other than some devilish nostalgia, there’s not much else to think fondly about in this capricious wreckage of the friendship between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The worst part may just be that the bestselling author of the Sherlock Holmes stories and the master illusionist actually were pals –though they met in 1920, not 1901, as depicted in the hourlong drama. I say the worst part because of all the missteps and mistakes in this series created by David Hoselton and David Titcher, there is a great opposites-attract drama to be made out of Houdini and Doyle. Houdini & Doyle is not it.
With foolishly era-inappropriate language, setups you can see coming front he horizon and subplots of secrets and loss that do little but meander, the basic premise of the 10-episode series is that skilled skeptic Houdini, played by Michael Weston, and avowed spiritualist Doyle, portrayed by Stephen Mangan, team to solve crimes at the dawn of last-century London. It’s not an altogether unpromising notion, but it soon has any life pounded out of it by insufferable scripts filled with endless and circular bickering of reason vs. faith. Again, a worthy debate (and one the real-life chums had and fell out over), but clownishly mishandled here.
With that said, actress Rebecca Liddiard is by far the best part of the series, as she battles discrimination and a bad reputation as Scotland Yard’s first female Constable. Amidst cameos by the likes of Nikola Tesla and a young Winston Churchill, Liddiard’s Adelaide Stratton is assigned to assist Houdini and Doyle, in what her bosses hope is a step toward failure.
The real failure here is the lack of imagination and execution, so if you have an hour to spare on Mondays, then I suggest opening up one of Sir Arthur’s books on the Great Detective – that’s how to spin a good tale.
Click on my Houdini & Doyle video review and tell us what you think of the series.