Hit or Sh**: FOX’s HOUDINI AND DOYLE

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

houdini and doyle

Now, if you know me, you know that I don’t like much of anything, especially not the trite, disinterested swill Netflix and the networks are pumping out. When I heard that HOUDINI AND DOYLE was going to be a thing, I wept for what the world has come to. Although apparently LUCIFER found its footing in the latter half of its season, FOX and I haven’t historically been the best bedfellows, and the premise of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini solving supernatural murder mysteries did not seem like a concept well-handled by anybody, much less the network briefly responsible for COOPER BARRETT’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING LIFE. However, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised once the 40 odd minutes of the pilot ran their course. This is a very, very silly show that often has the audience member debating whether or not it’s good. However, what is undeniable is that it is clean, self-aware fun, and that’s more than I can say for most of what I’ve watched recently.

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Perhaps that stache will institute Stephan Mangan as a sex symbol for those too old for Cumberbatch

As mentioned, the premise of HOUDINI AND DOYLE does just what it says on the tin: pitting two mythic, historical juggernauts up and tossing them around London solving murder mysteries. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a firm believer in all that goes bump in the night, and he and Houdini often come to blows over Houdini’s staunch lack of faith in anything. As such, the show sets up what is sure to be a recurring motif wherein the pair will bet on the respective paranormality of each case they receive, which, to be fair, does offer the potential for plenty of red herrings and surprise shifts in what realm of existence we’re dealing with. As for the pilot, the dynamic duo must sleuth about and discover who really killed two nuns at a local convent when the culprit is rumored to be the ghost of the dead Sister Lucy. What follows is a terse crime procedural, as overtly convoluted and requiring many of the same leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief as its innumerable peers.

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Like the disbelief expressed at who in the Hell wears a purple vest to go sleuthing

However, the premise and the way the pilot handles its tone is enough to forgive what is comparatively a fairly by-the-numbers narrative. First and foremost, the show makes absolutely no attempt to explain or delve into why and how Doyle and Houdini know each other, which sidesteps what would have otherwise presumably have been a hokey, flashback-laden attempt at constructing a backstory. The two were apparently friends while they were both alive in real life, so the show throws the audience right into the midst of their constantly bickering friendship. This gives the world-of-story some depth, as it shows that there are presumable encounters the two have had with each other and the supernatural that we may never be made aware of. However, far more endearingly nonsensical is the fact that Houdini and Doyle burst into a constable’s office and essentially just politely ask for him to let them handle a case. With more or less of a shrug, Houdini and Doyle are now in charge of a high-profile murder mystery. I mean, why not? If George R. R. Martin and David Blaine burst into your office and demanded that they re-open the Zodiac Killer case, who in the Hell would turn them down?

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Just take all of my money and make it happen

Although this would shoot a different show in the foot, humorously illogical plot points such as this blend in with the overblown, on-the-nose nature of the whole pilot. Characters walk around shouting their exaggerated opinions on both the case and Houdini and Doyle’s larger debate about spiritualism and practicality, keeping things almost constantly turned up to 11. Houdini’s rampant misogyny is so eye-rollingly archaic that it inspires smirks instead of grimaces, Constable Adelaide Stratton is always having to empathically deliver exposition about why she’s just as capable as any male cop, and the actual killer ends up being a Julianne Moore look-alike whose estranged daughter made her way to the nunnery, was left outside in the rain, caught a cold, and died — which, in turn, inspired Julianne Moore, who never spoke to the daughter when she was at the nunnery, to go on a murderous rampage. Also ghosts are actually present.

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If you couldn’t tell, HOUDINI AND DOYLE is not a perfect pilot. The FX for the ghosts are laughably horrific, and certain shots as that of the Metropole Hotel just scream “soundstage.” In addition, although the show is fairly good at featuring characters that aren’t straight, white men, Adelaide Stratton is a fairly uninteresting character. Though the nearly comic levels of opposition she faces contribute to the cartoon-like nature of the show and its caricatures of early 20th century society, we’ve seen the general arc of a woman having to prove herself in a man’s world countless times before. In addition, since she’s quite literally brought out of nowhere by the Constable to accompany Doyle and Houdini, it’s no surprise that Adelaide is quickly forgotten about as soon as our sleuths need to get down to brass tacks and sleuth, goddamnit. In addition, the explanation for the murders makes absolutely no sense. I’m torn on this point, as on one hand I enjoyed it for how hackneyed and unrealistic it was, and on the other, I don’t understand why they couldn’t have come up with something more intriguing; you know, like something involving the fact that ghosts are real.

Topped off with a smattering of zingers aimed at Houdini’s abilities as a magician and the fact that Doyle wants to be taken seriously as an author outside of the Sherlock Holmes character that he created, HOUDINI AND DOYLE is truthfully not that bad. Although a show not taking itself seriously often devolves into creatively devoid, post-ironic fuckery, this show is so earnest in its attempts at creating a milieu of the unrealistic that it comes across as genuine as a result. However, this tone may be a ticking time bomb. As soon as the novelty wears off, the lack of narrative competency may become grating. But for now, why not give it a watch?

Verdict: Sh** Probation

HOUDINI AND DOYLE airs on Mondays on FOX

Crossfader is the brainchild of Thomas Seraydarian, and he acts as Editor-in-Chief.

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