May 2, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Houdini & Doyle”


HOUDINI & DOYLE:  Monday 9PM on FOX – Change the Channel

Paranormal procedurals have been fertile ground for FOX since at least The X-Files, recently with Lucifer and Sleepy Hollow (and the rebooted X-Files).  The network’s early-arrival summer series HOUDINI & DOYLE, though, is a plodding, uninspired miss in the subgenre.

As the rules more or less require, the show pairs a skeptic with a true believer.  The trick this time is that those are, respectively, the legendary magician Harry Houdini (played by Michael Weston) and Sherlock Holmes’s creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan, from Episodes), who were in fact friends IRL, although as far as history records not a pair of intrepid crimesolvers.  They’re paired with the fictional dewy-eyed yet determined junior female constable Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard), and off they go, making fools of the the other police on hand with their ingenious solutions to impossible crimes.  This kind of mix of historical footnote with mystery can be a lot of fun, notably in the novel and film The Seven-Percent Solution, which had Conan Doyle’s creation joining forces with Sigmund Freud.  In the hands of series creators David Hoselton and David N. Titcher (writer/producer veterans respectively of House and The Librarians; House creator David Shore is a presiding non-writing executive producer here), the characters are no more functional than wooden puppets, and the stories are vapid.

The initial episode, written by Hoselton from a story by both creators, and directed by Stephen Hopkins, concerned murders in a convent, apparently committed by the ghost of a nun who died as a result of the cruelty of her elders.  Doyle picked up his clues by visiting a medium, while Houdini probed the science that could have explained the seemingly inexplicable phenomenon.  Along the way, they kept up a rom-com level of verbal sparring, while Stratton’s job was to look perky at all times.  Remarkably, both the identity of the murderer (another nun who turned out to be the dead one’s secret mother) and the cause of the apparition (rumblings from a nearby tube station) were equally unconvincing and unenthralling.

Some money has been spent on the production design of the saga, giving H&D a fairly elegant look considering that it’s a British/Canadian/US co-production (the episodes have already aired in Britain), and director Hopkins brought some atmosphere to the secret passageways and Victorian-era theatre where Houdini performs.  But Weston and Mangan match badly as performers–Weston doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that Houdini lived a century ago–and the script, even with just one thin story to tell, did little to explore the characters as individuals.

FOX is presumably getting Houdini & Doyle at a reasonable price, and in a few weeks when the regular season is over, the standards for acceptable primetime ratings will sink even lower than they’ve become during the last several months.  Put another way, if The Grinder with its 0.6 rating is still considered a “bubble show” for FOX, how much of a rating does H&D need to be considered a success?  Its content, however, is enough to make a viewer envy Houdini’s talent for escape.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."