Review: ‘Houdini & Doyle’ can’t find magic as sleuths

Tom Long
The Detroit News

“Houdini & Doyle” has a lot going for it.

Mainly it’s got Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle (he wrote the Sherlock Holmes books) investigating murders together. That’s a pretty cool combination.

So why does the show feel so tepid?

It’s not necessarily bad, understand, just surprisingly underwhelming considering it’s called “Houdini & Doyle.” One expects fireworks; instead we get consternation.

It’s the early 20th century. Harry Houdini (Michael Weston) is a world famous escape artist/magician/whatever based in London. Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan) is a beloved native literary figure, although he’s stopped writing the Holmes novels in favor of more boring fare.

When bizarre murders happen — and don’t they always? — Scotland Yard calls them in to assist.

The contrast is set immediately: Houdini only believes in logic, in the art of the con, while Doyle is more open to supernatural explanations. The first two episodes involve the murder of a nun and a death in a faith healer’s tent, letting the characters display their differences in religious settings.

Assumedly, the show will move beyond churchly murders, but who knows?

And then there are the love interests. Doyle is married, but his wife (Louise Delamere, Mangan’s actual wife) is in a coma; thus his faith in a greater power might revive her. And who does Scotland Yard choose to be its liaison with the duo? A perfectly darling policewoman (Rebecca Liddiard) who has Houdini making goo-goo eyes by the second episode.

All of which works well enough, as do the cases themselves. But “Houdini & Doyle” takes itself just a bit too seriously (and obviously) when it comes to the logic vs. faith thing. You can only pull that string so many times before it becomes either boring or irritating. This show needs to lighten up and realize the promise of its title.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘Houdini & Doyle’


9 p.m. Monday