Crime based television shows are everywhere; you can barely change the channel without stumbling on a murder-solving drama. It’s a genre that could use some fresh blood in it, something new that we haven’t seen before, rather than yet another CSI spinoff. Houdini and Doyle may not completely shake up the genre, but it does have a neat concept that could grow into something great.
So, what is Houdini and Doyle all about? It follows two historical figures who were at one time friends: Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, as they investigate cases with elements of the supernatural. Like they were in life, Houdini is skeptical of any supernatural phenomenon, while Doyle believes that there is something more out there. Accompanied by Adelaide Stratton, a (sadly fictional) police woman, they get to the bottom of spooky cases.
The concept itself is fun, and the setting is filled with possibilities, as crime fighting was different in 1900s London, and Houdini and Doyle are no ordinary investigators. My complaint is that so far, they haven’t taken enough advantage of the setting. The more they focus on how different life was over a hundred years ago, the better, as we’ve certainly had plenty of modern crime shows. Why not show us the uniqueness of the setting, rather than focus on the elements of crime fighting that we already know? Hopefully, as the series goes on, we’ll get more of that element.
But a cool setting isn’t enough to keep people watching week after week—there’s got to be interesting, likable characters as well. Houdini and Doyle chose their main characters well, as they are notable, fascinating historical figures who actually were friends, before falling out over Doyle’s beliefs in the supernatural.
Doyle comes across as a thoughtful, sweet man, whose belief in the supernatural does not mean a rejection of scientific principles—he is also a doctor. Doyle is played by Stephen Mangan and comes across as incredibly likeable. Rebecca Liddiard as Adelaide Stratton, the lone female constable, also comes across sympathetically, forced to babysit Houdini and Doyle rather than being allowed to do police work on her own. She faces discrimination and condescension in a world where she doesn’t even have the right to vote, but she handles it with strength and grace. The weak point in the main cast has to be Houdini, played by Michael Weston. His language and actions feel too modern for a series set in the early 1900s, and he can get overly obnoxious. There’s a line between being skeptical and being a jerk, and Houdini crosses that line with malice. There are hints that he (of course) secretly has a heart of gold, but as it is now, you won’t mind seeing him hit in the face by a suspect.
So, if they’re investigating crimes with an element of the supernatural, is it real in this universe? The answer is a solid “eh, maybe.” This isn’t the X-Files, where most situations have a creepy, otherworldly answer—so far, the answers to “whodunit?” have all been human, not spiritual. However, it does leave a bit of doubt to whether the supernatural does exist and whether it influences the investigations. It’ll be interesting to see if they ever fully embrace it, but if not, it’s still a neat concept.
Overall, Houdini and Doyle is worth investigating, especially if it fully embraces its concept as time goes on.