You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Houdini and Doyle’


Stephen Mangan, Michael Weston, Rebecca Liddiard, Tim McInnerny, Adam Nagaitis

On the broadcast networks, this time of year often takes on the trappings of a big garage sale. Sometimes you come across a real find in the jumble of mid-season debuts: Excellent shows like “Hannibal,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Wonder Years” all premiered in the months of March or April.

But most of the time, spring gives the broadcast nets chance a chance to clean out their attics and get rid of dust-gathering items they have no real use for. And that brings us to the new drama “Houdini and Doyle.”

Fox has committed — quite possibly overcommitted — to the idea of using existing intellectual property as the basis for many, if not most, of its new shows; if the network can shoehorn the devil, Ichabod Crane or parts of the premise of “Minority Report” into a cop procedural, all the better. This time around, Fox has shoved Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle into a crime-solving partnership that anchors a 10-episode series which aims for a generally light tone, but too often is merely amiably pallid.

The magician and the Sherlock Holmes author did know each other and were even friends for a time, and that connection could indeed supply a reasonably interesting foundation to an inspired TV show. But the crimes on offer in “Houdini and Doyle” are generally tame, plodding or both (and in the second episode, the killer is decidedly easy to predict). For viewers who find period detail, atmospheric storytelling and a textured take on historical figures more important than blood-soaked theatrics, Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” is a much better bet than this show. Another period drama, “The Knick,” which, like “Houdini and Doyle,” is set in a bustling turn-of-the-century metropolis, provides a more taut, layered approach to its characters, as well as exceptional production values. And those who hunger for a fresh approach to all things Conan Doyle (and Sherlock Holmes), it’s hard not to recommend the duo of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in the hit BBC/PBS series.

“Houdini and Doyle” simply doesn’t have enough notable qualities that set it apart, although it does have a couple of worthy elements. The show generally makes good use of some outstanding locations, despite a tendency to over-light sets to the point of detracting from the period vibe. The High Victorian setting of much of the first episode, in which the duo investigates murders at a laundry run by nuns, is superb.

The show’s other strength is Stephen Mangan, who proved his adroitness in “Episodes,” among other programs. Though his skill and range can’t quite raise the overall level of this drama enough to recommend it, Mangan goes above and beyond the call of duty in his sensitive portrayal of Conan Doyle, who, within the time frame of this show, is troubled by the illness of his wife and dabbling in spiritualism.

Rather ponderously, the series does its best to recall the basic dynamic of the “The X-Files,” the king of Fox procedurals, then and now. As was the case with the real Houdini, this version of the man hates the way spiritualists and others he deems charlatans bilk the grieving and credulous, and he condemns their tendency to take advantage of many people’s inability to see past stagecraft and trickery. Doyle, on the other hand, is interested in the phenomena of ghosts and faith healing and doesn’t necessarily reject supernatural explanations for events. The banter between the two men about faith and ethics should form the basis of the show’s appeal, but despite the energy of Mangan and co-star Michael Weston, the first two installments of “Houdini and Doyle” don’t display a real spark. That’s partly because it’s never quite explained why the two keep working together in light of their many other commitments, or why the London police allow them to regularly interfere with investigations.

Unlike Mulder and Scully, or, for that matter, the title character and Dr. Wilson on “House” — which “Houdini and Doyle” executive producer David Shore created — this unlikely duo doesn’t have the kind of chemistry that can carry them past some palpable rough spots. The explanation is simple enough: Though parts of the show are tricked up enough to have potential, “Houdini and Doyle” lacks magic.

TV Review: 'Houdini and Doyle'

Series; Fox, Mon. May 2, 9 p.m.


Filmed in the U.K. and Canada by Shaftesbury, Big Talk and Shore Z Prods.


Executive producers, David Shore, David Hoselton, David Titcher, Christina Jennings, Maggie Murphy, Scott Garvie, Kenton Allen, Matthew Justice, Luke Alkin; director, Stephen Hopkins; writers, Hoselton, Titcher; camera, Philipp Blaubach; editors, John Smith, D. Gillian Truster; production designer, Arwel Wyn Jones; music, James Jandrisch; costume designer, Claire Finlay-Thompson. 60 MIN.


Stephen Mangan, Michael Weston, Rebecca Liddiard, Tim McInnerny, Adam Nagaitis

More TV

  • Amazon, HBO Max, Netflix Dish on

    Amazon, HBO Max, Netflix Dish on Their International Plans

    It’s different strokes for different streaming folks as Amazon, HBO Max and Netflix lifted the lid on their international plans in London this week. Amazon said it’s not in the volume game and talked up a select number of hyper-local shows, while Netflix dished on plans to rev up non-English-language originals. The message from HBO [...]

  • Dua Lipa

    Green Day, Dan + Shay, Dua Lipa Among 'New Year's Rockin' Eve' Performers

    Green Day, Dan + Shay, Dua Lipa, Paula Abdul, Kelsea Ballerini, Blanco Brown, Ava Max, Megan Thee Stallion, Anthony Ramos, Salt-N-Pepa and SHAED will perform on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020,” dick clark productions and ABC announced today. The broadcast will also feature Ciara as West Coast host, who said, [...]


    Daniel Rezende on Netflix Brazilian Series ‘Nobody’s Looking’

    Having premiered on Netflix Nov. 22, “Nobody’s Looking” marks the first collaboration between Gullane and Netflix – their second, “Boca a Boca” is in development- and comes from a long list of new projects that the streaming giant has announced with it’s $87 Million investment in Brazilian content. The series embodies the streaming platform’s push [...]

  • Chuck LorreVariety Innovate Summit, Presented by

    Chuck Lorre Talks Streaming Vs. Broadcast, WGA-Agency Battle at Innovate Summit

    With “The Kominsky Method,” Chuck Lorre ventured out of his broadcast comedy comfort zone and took a leap into the world of streaming, an unknown quantity for him. During a keynote conversation at the Variety Innovate summit, held Thursday at the 1 Hotel in West Hollywood, Lorre talked about how making a show for a [...]

  • Jason Segel as Peter, Eve Lindley

    TV News Roundup: AMC Announces 'Dispatches From Elsewhere' Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Dispatches From Elsewhere” starring Jason Segel has been scheduled for a two-night premiere date and Netflix released a teaser for Season 2 of “You.” CASTINGS Briana Cuoco has been cast in HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” in the recurring role of Cecilia. The series details the chilling story of a flight [...]

  • Supergirl -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths:

    'Arrowverse' Boss Breaks Down Journey to 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'

    It’s an event nearly 500 hours in the making when the “Arrowverse” and fellow CW superhero series “Black Lightning” collide in the five-part epic crossover event, “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Inspired by the iconic graphic novel by the same name, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” finds the “Arrowverse” heroes — including Green Arrow (Stephen Amell), The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content