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Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were more like frenemies than friends. Their real-life relationship in the 1920s could be adversarial—Doyle believed in the occult, and Houdini repeatedly (and sometimes successfully) tried to debunk its existence (sorry, kids, his magic wasn't real). They eventually had a massive falling out and became rivals—but according to Houdini & Doyle, a new drama on Fox, their opposing views made them the perfect pair of rogue detectives.
In the first episode, Doyle (Stephen Mangan) and Houdini (Michael Weston) are asked by Scotland Yard to join female constable Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard) to investigate the murder of a young nun. The only suspect of the crime: a ghost. What follows is like an episode of The X-Files. The believer, Doyle, goes to a medium to try to solve the case, hoping to stop the murders by putting the accused spirit at ease. Houdini, the skeptic, looks for scientific clues and evidence of sleight of hand that would disprove the ghost theory. Constable Stratton, well, she does little more than stand around, trying not to pass out from the tightness of her corset.
At first I thought, "The creator of Sherlock Holmes and the master of escape teaming up to solve mysteries? Sign me up!" But instead of a somewhat ridiculous period drama about two fascinating historical figures, what the show turns into is just another crime procedural. I can almost picture David Caruso stepping in and whipping off his sunglasses when, late in the episode, Houdini says, "Looks like someone wants to make this [pause for dramatic effect] a triple murder." Maybe that's because Weston's Houdini seems like he'd be more at home in an episode of Entourage than in his three-piece suit and pocket watch.
I have nothing against standard crime procedurals—I've watched every episode of Law & Order: SVU. But what makes shows like that or Bones or even Castle entertaining is the chemistry between the main characters and the expert structure of the crime and the investigation. So far, Houdini & Doyle has neither. It's only the first episode—maybe the duo can still bring a little magic to this show. Then again, maybe these two are just better off as enemies.
Houdini & Doyle Mondays at 8 PM on Fox