'Houdini & Doyle': History's odd couple put to work solving mysteries


Updated: Thursday, April 28, 2016, 10:05 AM

(L-R) Rebecca Liddiard as Adelaide Stratton, Michael Weston as Harry Houdini, and Stephen Mangan as Arthur Conan Doyle in "Houdini & Doyle."

Not even the great Harry Houdini can escape TV's unceasing demand for amateur detectives.

Starting 9 p.m. Monday on Fox, the famed magician, played by Michael Weston (House), will join Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan, Episodes) in Houdini & Doyle, a Canadian-British period drama that celebrates one of history's more interesting friendships, X-Files style.

Doyle, the man behind literature's leading skeptic, is the Fox Mulder in this duo, a man who wants to believe in an afterlife and in communication with the dead.

Houdini, whose business is creating illusions, is like (early) Dana Scully, certain there's a logical explanation for everything. That includes the appearance in Monday's premiere of a ghostly killer at a London institution for prostitutes and unwed mothers.

They're joined in their investigations by police constable Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard), who's based, according to producers, on an early British policewoman, though probably not as early as this one.

The series, whose producers include House creator David Shore, is set in 1901, 18 years before the first woman joined London's Metropolitan Police and 19 years before Houdini and Doyle are reported to have met. It's a time, though, when Doyle's first wife, Mary (Emily Carey), might already have been suffering from tuberculosis, as she is here, and when their two children were still young.

Houdini, too, was married then, though in the series he's single.

So there's no point in getting wrapped in the history: In that area, Houdini & Doyle is about as right as Reign, the CW show that has thoroughly reimagined the already interesting life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Whatever their era, Houdini and Doyle are the show. More interesting than the cases they worked on in the two episodes I've seen, they start out more as frenemies than friends, but it's a relationship with promise.

They're also a reminder that there's nothing really new about our preoccupation with the famous.

The writers have had some fun with the men's considerable fame, which rests more comfortably with the brash American magician than the medical-doctor-turned-author, who's trying to leave his most popular creation, Holmes, behind.

So while Doyle's fending off furious fans, Houdini is happily entertaining the likes of W.B. Yeats, Nikola Tesla, and Winston Churchill.

If this thing takes off, maybe they'll all get cop shows, too.



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