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02 April 2016 @ 09:47 pm
TV Review: Houdini & Doyle  
This UK-US-CA tri-partnership TV series starring British Stephen Mangan and American Michael Weston (with swapped hair dos!) and Canadian Rebecca Liddiard tells the story of Harry Houdini & Arthur Conan Doyle, crime fighters!

But seriously. It's really that.


Inspired by a real life friendship between the greatest escape artist and the man who created Sherlock Holmes, the series is essentially a half supernatural, half police procedural show about Houdini and Doyle consulting for Scotland Yard when they get faced with unusual cases. It's basically like Sherlock, House, and Murdoch Mysteries rolled into one. I've only seen 4 episodes of the show so far and while not always winning in the mystery department, it provides some low key humor and good fun.

The show is so far set entirely in London and despite having what I imagine are busy schedules, Houdini (Weston) and Doyle (Mangan) always seem available to consult on the more bizarre cases facing the local police. By bizarre, I mean seemingly supernatural, the existence of such things being the central conflict between the two men. In real life, Doyle was a believer in the otherworldly while Houdini was a stalwart skeptic. It was apparently Houdini's side business of debunking such things that eventually led to the demise of his friendship with Doyle. In the show, each episode presents a situation that seems supernaturally-influenced which means every episode features Doyle and Houdini arguing about why the other is an idiot for believing or not believing. It gets a little tiring after a bit but luckily we have some other things to keep us going.

The main police officer who works with them is Constable Adelaide Stratton (Liddiard), the yard's first female constable. It's not historically accurate in the least but you have to roll with it. As she is so far the only female police officer, she's beset by sexism left and right which she bears with her head held high. This also could get tiring but I like that the show allows for the men at her job not be complete morons in the service of being misogynistic. Like her boss is initially awful to her but he doesn't necessarily dismiss her good policework just because she's a woman which is comparatively nice. I also can't quite tell if it's done on purpose or if it's just bad writing but there are plenty of moments in the show where Houdini and Doyle, arguably the most enlightened of characters when it comes to gender equality, still behave like two men who regard women as objects. It's period-appropriate but I can't help but feel like it might be less the show's writers being accurate and more them missing the point that the guys betting on whether or not Stratton will have dinner with Houdini is just crass.

Still, as shows go, it's pretty entertaining. Stephen Mangan's real life wife, Louise Delamere plays Doyle's wife which is kind of fun. However, as per historical accuracy, she is suffering from TB and currently in a coma which is less fun. As an actor, I've only seen Mangan do comedy and while he gets to employ some of that, he also gets the more serious of personal stories as Doyle struggles to deal with the loss of his wife while raising their two kids. Compared to this, Michael Weston gets the more lighthearted role of Houdini. I saw Weston last in Elementary, playing Oscar, Sherlock's old dealer and the most hated of guest characters. He does much better as Houdini which is not the easiest task since Houdini gets saddled with most of the He's a Genius So He's Brash and Sassy trope. The two of them along with Liddiard's Stratton all generate a pretty decent chemistry. It feels like every character is just barely hovering above some standard stereotype roles (e.g. Independent Feminist Among Men) but given that the show itself is pretty irreverant, I don't care that much that the characters aren't deeper.

It's not the most involved of shows but it's not a bad way to spend 45 minutes a week.