As spring comes into full bloom, network television begins the process of spring cleaning, scrapping shows that pulled in lower ratings and taking chances with newer adaptations. In the past, these have included shows such as “Wayward Pines” and “Hannibal,” both of which were highly acclaimed in their pilot seasons and subsequently renewed. Such is the case of Fox’s newest project, a 10-episode miniseries titled “Houdini and Doyle” that pulls together literary genius Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan, “Episodes”) and magician Harry Houdini (Michael Weston, “Elementary”) as a dynamic duo that solves crimes for the New Scotland Yard, London’s police force.

The premise of the show is based on the brief friendship shared between the author and magician before Houdini’s untimely death. As far fetched as the pair may seem, the premise is historically accurate — besides the actual crime-solving, that is. On the outside, the bantering friendship that is portrayed between the two is humorous and characteristic of a mash-up such as this duo. While American magician Harry Houdini finds Doyle’s English mannerisms annoying, Doyle finds Houdini completely insufferable. Serious situations are diluted by bets and the mutual need to outwit one another. In all honesty, the dialogue is exactly what we would expect from the great magician and father of Sherlock Holmes. However, as accurate as the dialogue may appear, Mangan and Weston lack vital intercharacter chemistry.

Nonetheless, the series has its highs, found especially in the Victorian era setting — which brings in a Sherlockian vibe to the show, and its nod to feminism in a time of well-forgotten repression. A prime example is found in Constable Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard, “MsLabelled”), who oversees the investigations of Houdini and Doyle and fights for her rights in the workplace of men in turn-of-the-century London. However, although we would expect some badass actions on Stratton’s part, her character is painfully dull, taking the backseat where we would expect to see rebellion. Paired with the flawed duo, Liddiard is instead portrayed as a character whose sole purpose in the trio is to keep Houdini’s ego in check, rather than the headstrong feminist that one would expect to see out of a female police officer in the early 1900s. In fact, the only promising aspect of Stratton’s personality is her on point detective skills.

Overall, the premise provides an interesting foundation that has the potential to pave the way for a new network crime-fighting duo. However, the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Houdini and Doyle will barely push the show through its allotted 10 episodes, but not much farther. As for character development, we’ll just have to wait and see if the thriller picks up after its shaky pilot to mold the magician and author into the Mulder and Scully tropes that they seem to be playing off of but have thus far unsuccessfully portrayed.


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