True Confession: I wasn’t sure if this was going to be something I’d enjoy – because I still kid myself that I can ignore anything even remotely connected to Sherlock Holmes – and so decided to watch Houdini & Doyle pretty much at the last minute. And I’m glad I did.
The premise is pretty much Victorian X-Files crossed with Castle, but that’s what makes it fun. Houdini (Michael Weston) and Doyle (Stephen Mangan) are friendly but they disagree on the issue of the paranormal: Doyle, the creator of the logical “just the facts” thinking of Sherlock Holmes firmly believes in the paranormal, and Houdini, the greatest magician of his day, firmly does not and is always looking to debunk whatever comes their way. They end up helping Scotland Yard and its first female constable, Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard), to solve bizarre crimes.
Adelaide has some secrets herself, and Houdini makes it his business to find out what her history is, in between finding murderers, solving cold cases, and finding kidnapped children. Doyle, meanwhile, has his own troubles – his wife is in a coma due to tuberculosis and his two children need more reassurances than he’s able to give. Plus, everyone wants him to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead and he really doesn’t want to do so.
Don’t go looking for historical accuracy. The show is set some 20 years before the real Houdini and Doyle ever met. Houdini is shown to be a dashing playboy who’s also devoted to his mother when, in real life, he was already married and his mother dead at the time the show is set. Scotland Yard didn’t have women on the force until after WWI. There’s more, but all of this doesn’t bother me all that much – it’s fiction and I’m finding it entertaining, so I’m willing to ignore the many anachronisms (like Houdini’s dialog) and factual errors. I credit this to the three leads, by the way, because normally anachronisms like this make me want to scream.
What’s harder to ignore is now bright and clean the show looks. There is literally no dirt anywhere unless the script calls for it. I wouldn’t want to get the lovely costumes and sets dirty, either, but since Doyle himself described the dirt of London’s streets time and time again, to be able to see every cobblestone as if you were actually in Disneyland is a little distracting. Everything gleams, everyone is clean, and little is out of place. It’s a very sanitized version of the London of the day.
However, the pleasure is in the paranormal investigations that usually give us a rational answer, though, just as in The X-Files, there’s almost always a hint that the paranormal is really there. Another pleasure is in listening to both men, Houdini in particular, discuss “known scientific fact” which we now know to be wrong.
I wasn’t sure if I could see past the two roles I know Michael Weston from the best – his guest starring roles on Elementary and Psych. But his characters on those two shows couldn’t be more different, and I’m enjoying him on this show as well. (And he also has the distinction of having guest starred on House. Meaning he’s been on three shows starring Sherlock Holmes or characters based on Holmes, and is now starring with the “creator” of Holmes. Not sure if this puts him in the record books, but it’s an interesting bit of trivia.)
Will this turn-of-the-last-century Scully and Mulder get renewed? No idea, it’s currently being billed as a 10-part event. So enjoy some Victorian X-Files while you can – before Houdini & Doyle pulls a Houdini and disappears.
Rating: 4 Stars