'Houdini & Doyle': No Magic In These Mysteries

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Ken Tucker
·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Magician and escape-artist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle did, apparently, know each other in real life, but it seems unlikely that they solved mysteries together for however long the new Houdini & Doyle manages to stay on the air. The new hour, premiering Monday on Fox, positions Houdini (Michael Weston) as the smart-alecky American skeptic, and Doyle (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) as a gullible believer in the supernatural: They’re opposites attracting, paired up to investigate crimes that stump the police. To demonstrate this, the duo is assigned a British police officer (Rebecca Liddiard) to keep them in line — because you just know the Brits were hiring a lot of young women in key capacities at the turn of the 20th century.

This show, co created by David Hoselton and David Titcher, is one implausibility after another, including the dialogue, which has Houdini threatening to use his friendship with a high-ranking officer by saying he’s going to “have to play the Nicky card.” This is a linguistic anachronism so blatant, the fact that it managed to escape the notice of anyone editing this script is more mind-boggling than any of Houdini’s daring escapes from water-filled traps that are re-staged here.

The series fits a certain Fox network tradition of unlikely pair-ups solving crimes — Bones, Sleepy Hollow, and all the way back to The X-Files. You could even stretch that to include Doctors Gregory House and Wilson in House, created by David shore, who’s one of the executive producers of Houdini & Doyle. But with its period costumes and fussy-funny British-American tone, H&D actually plays more like an episode of PBS’ Mr. Selfridge devoted to crime and supernaturalism.

There have now been enough movies, books, and TV shows featuring Holmes and Doyle to render them kinds of fictional characters themselves, exaggerating certain elements of their personalities. The two lead actors do their best to feign exasperation with each other, and with Liddiard’s cop Adelaide. But the dialogue isn’t clever — it’s more on the level of strenuous declarations such as this exchange: “How are you supposed to stop a ghost?” “You find out what it wants!” I doubt even an entertainment-starved ghost would want more than one episode of Houdini & Doyle.

Houdini & Doyle airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.