Houdini Doyle Cancelled

Houdini & Doyle Review: Fox's Drab Period Drama Is a No-Wit Sherlock

grade_D+Like that ad campaign from the early ’80s where diners at fine restaurants had their coffee replaced with Folgers crystals, Fox’s Houdini & Doyle attempts to satisfy viewers who gravitate to high-minded, British crime stories with a period flair (and/or have an unrequited craving for PBS’ all-too-infrequent Sherlock).

In this case, though, even the least refined palate will detect a top note of cheap and joyless imitation that permeates every aspect of this befuddling 10-episode event series.

Oh, sure, on paper, Houdini & Doyle sounds out-of-left-field intriguing: It’s set in 1901 and built around the real-life friendship of master magician Harry Houdini (House‘s Michael Weston) and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan). Unfortunately, you won’t need to get past the second commercial break of the pilot episode to realize you’re watching the most banal type of procedural, dressed up in garish period costumes and clogged with faith-versus-science questions that get explored with all the depth and nuance of a political debate on The View.

houdini doyle foxThe two episodes I screened found the titular duo teaming up with plucky Constable Adelaide Stratton (Rebecca Liddiard) to investigate a pair of deaths with mysterious undercurrents: In the first, an eyewitness spies a ghost fleeing the scene of the crime; in the second, a man drops dead just moments after questioning a faith healer’s legitimacy and the existence of God.

Trouble is, creators David Hoselton (House, Chicago P.D.) and David Titcher (The Librarians) are content with serving up Scooby-Doo-level mysteries — complete with random clues prompting exclamations like “I know who the killer is!” — and dialogue that would make Velma, Fred and Daphne ask for re-writes. “You’re a doctor! Why would you rather believe that she was cured by God — not by medicine?” Houdini asks Doyle in one of many thudding exchanges designed to underscore the magician’s hard-wired cynicism and the author’s faith in an afterlife and a higher power.

It doesn’t help that Weston’s delivery is so unquestionably modern that Houdini comes off like a time-traveler just dropping in on turn-of-the-century London, nor that his character’s romantic inclinations toward Adelaide spring less from any palpable chemistry or scripted connection, but rather from the grimly simple network mathematics that dictate Single Male Lead + Single Female Lead = Instantaneous ‘Ship. (Let me not even get into the scene that offers one too many close studies of the festering boils on Houdini’s torso!) Is it a compliment to say that, by comparison, Mangan succeeds through sheer innocuousness?

All this is my way of saying that given their historical accomplishments, the late, great Houdini and Doyle deserve better than Houdini & Doyle. And if you’re really hard up for a way to kill a few hours, don’t forget that the latter fella penned a few books that would make much better use of your time.

The TVLine Bottom Line: Like a chained-up Houdini submerged in a tank full of water, you’d be wise to squirm your way out of this debacle as quickly as possible. Better yet, don’t take the plunge in the first place.

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56 Comments
  1. herman1959 says:

    Wow, Michael DID NOT LIKE THIS! I”m in a contrarian mood just now, so I might still give it a try depending on what night it airs.

  2. Annie says:

    Well that is disappointing. I won’t bother. I was looking forward to this, though.

  3. Murica! says:

    I’ve already seen 8 episodes and I enjoy the show. It’s fun.

  4. Lilacly says:

    I was already skeptical of the show once I saw their version of Houdini in the trailer. He seemed like a stick in the mud and far from what I’d expected other than the hair. I’d rather stick with Murdoch Mysteries’ Houdini and Doyle characters.

  5. me says:

    After watching all of the Canadian series ‘Murdoch Mysteries’ set in the same time period, I can not imagine Houdini and Doyle could hold a candle to that series. I hope what I read about Murdoch Mysteries having another season is true. That being said however, I rarely take reviews from others as my determination as to whether or not I will enjoy a show. I did see a preview and was not impressed. However, I may give it a shot to prove itself.

  6. Tina says:

    Evil cackle at a FOX drama getting bad reviews. For what they did to Sleepy Hollow, I hope they crash and burn.

  7. Cat says:

    I enjoy “Murdoch Mysteries” as well as the “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. Haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch Houdini and Doyle, but am looking forward to it.

  8. Karen says:

    I think the series is great actually! It’s not supposed to be a laugh a minute and covers issues that happened to them – like Doyle’s wife dying and Houdini’s need to be close to his Mother and the fallout after her death. The stories are fair and whilst they might not have the charisma of Murdoch, they are well worth watching. Just because one person cries they don’t like it, doesn’t make it so!

  9. adam says:

    After watching the first episode, i didn’t like it very much and stopped watching it for several episodes, but i didn’t have anything to watch one day so i caught up on the 3 episodes i had saved up and by the 4th episode i was wishing i had saved up more. So i didn’t have to wait to watch more episodes, by the 8th episode i really hoped people watching on American television would get past the first 2 episodes and keep watching because it gets a lot better.

  10. SoFla says:

    The promos I have seen made me a bit leery of the show. Those, plus your review, make it a safe bet I won’t tune in. Thanks!

  11. MMD says:

    The ads for it didn’t look at all interesting and Michael’ reinforces my feelings.

  12. Billyb says:

    Harsh review. I’ve seen 7 episodes in the UK and it’s rather good.

  13. Lauren says:

    Michael, I love when you don’t like something. Is that wrong?

  14. JustMe says:

    I’ve seen the first episode and really liked it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it was entertaining. I actually started it really late at night expecting that it wouldn’t be all that great, and I’d just finish it the next day, and before I knew it, I was finishing the whole thing.

  15. Marco says:

    The actual second episode is about a boy shooting a suffragette because she killed him in a previous life, and it’s actually pretty damn good. Besides, this show tends to get a slight bit lackluster in the mysteries, but the chemistry between Mangan and Weston is pretty strong.

    It does get better, though not to Sherlock levels.

  16. So it was utter torture to watch. I will give the pilot a chance before I give up. Thanks Micheal I luv reading your recaps.

  17. Maria M says:

    This show was a lot of fun to watch and the chemistry between the three leads is undeniable. It might not be the most historically accurate show (it definitely isn’t), and it might not have the most amazing mysteries, but it’s definitely a pretty good hour of television.

  18. Carol C says:

    I’m still going to check this out since I’m both a Doyle and Houdini fan and I loved Stephen Mangan in Episodes. It’s good to see that the Brit commenters were happy they stayed with the series.

  19. JPNS says:

    This is a Shaftsbury Production, known for its light but entertaining productions… there will be no heavy thinking or gripping plot twists. Unfortunately, Mr. Slezak was looking for something all engrossing and obviously didn’t find it : he didn’t do his homework …. it’s a fun show that offers a breezy and unpretentious hour of entertainment.

  20. PatriciaLee says:

    Looking over past articles, I’m surprised Michael did this review. The series doesn’t seem to his taste. I do remember reading one Sherlock Holmes story when I was 18, then read them all in a few weeks, lamenting that there were no more. I honor and enjoy something in every attempt to give us more, no matter the grade earned. With the Chicago PD creator involved, here’s hoping.

  21. rowan77 says:

    The first couple of episodes are stilted and filled with wooden lines. That gets a bit better as it goes along, but I have problems with the massive liberties they take with these characters who were real people. Doyle was Scottish, from Edinburgh and he kept his accent his entire life (you can check out an interview with him on Youtube. On the show he sounds very English with a posh accent. Harry Houdini sounds like he stepped out of the 21st century. They clearly wrote the lines that way and it makes me wonder why. In real life Houdini was happily married for over a decade in 1901. I get that they want some sort of will they/won’t they drama with Adelaide, but it feels forced, so why pretend there is no marriage and that he’s a playboy? Would it not be more interesting if he was married and found himself attracted to Adelaide, creating a conflict within the character? Even with the Bram Stoker episode, they also say he was single when he was married all for a small plot point.

    I am fine with artistic license, but this show feels like they never bothered to learn anything about the very real people they are using as their characters. A little reality grounds the characters and makes you believe in them, which is much needed in a show where belief in the supernatural is part of every episode. The show needs an overhaul.

  22. Cory says:

    A friend who has seen several eps also described it as like a live action Scooby Doo, with no real supernatural happenings. I’d watch of some cases turned out to be supernatural and others didn’t but I definitely have no interest in a show about disproving supernatural involvement every single week. Shame because I thought the promo was fun.

  23. Josh says:

    The first episode was shaky, and the second was okay. But I’m telling you, the show really does get better with each episode. Most the first season has aired already in the UK.

  24. Lindsey N says:

    I saw the pilot at WonderCon in March and really enjoyed it. It’d be nice if you’d said when it airs here, though.

    Maybe Michael and I just have completely different tastes. He also trashed Damien, and I love that show, as it’s gotten so much better since the beginning. (Plus, I don’t watch reality TV at all, and Michael seems to mostly cover that.) I guess I’ll probably do the opposite of whatever he says now. Basically what I’m saying is that if you think the concept is remotely interesting, don’t go by this review. Watch it yourself and form your own opinion.

  25. Morisot says:

    Houdini looks like Jimmy Fallon

  26. Ross says:

    I actually liked it. My only real issue with it was the fact that it’s set in 1901 and Houdini seems to be flirting with Adelaide and yet at that time Houdini was married to his wife Bess. The writers didn’t need to force a romantic relationship where there was no basis for one. Also it’s a very basic mistake that they wouldn’t have made with the slightest bit of research about Houdini the man. That said, I will continue to watch the show.

  27. M.E. DuQuesne says:

    Were Bobby Cannavale and Hugh Bonneville uninterested in this shopped around concept and it just went downhill from there?

  28. M.E. DuQuesne says:

    Seriously, it’s a cool, strong concept.
    I enjoyed the dialogue and plot line of the pilot episode.
    But:
    -The lighting/filter makes everything comic book “Dick Tracy” technicolor cartoonish.
    -The costumes aren’t worn from being lived in, but “worn and draped on ‘characters'”; and they are beautiful, but sorry, not “lived in”.
    -Respectively, the characters, even though they are based on real life figures, are not “lived in”.
    Makes me wonder what PBS’ Masterpiece or the BBC could do with such a concept…
    And that saddens me as a former theater arts major on this side of the pond…
    Why is it so hard to realize a good concept?
    I know period pieces can be hard, but AMC’S Turn series has managed to make good entertainment about the American Revolution, (another period piece), engaging and relevant TV.

  29. Kabaka says:

    Please CANCLE the show, it is clearly STUIPED, BORING and POORLY written just like the series Sherlock Holmes. You should of kept the series Dracula.

  30. Going to have to agree. I watched the first 15 minutes–made it to that commercial break, and it just didn’t click with me. Pass.

  31. PatriciaLee says:

    The beginning of the show is fantastic! I love that Doyle killed off Sherlock and does not want to write any more Holmes books. What a wonderful time period to begin. It does not deserve a D+.

    • PatriciaLee says:

      I enjoyed the episode, immensely. This show is quite articulate and does a good historical background job, and them dealing with the women’s struggle should have given them a higher grade. It was a good viewing package, if not the most excellent. The husband chuckled his way through it and is into watching the show, weekly.

  32. JM says:

    I 100% agree with this review. I had already set my DVR to record the series but after the first show, it dawned on me, “this show is awful” and I canceled the recording. Badly written, poorly cast, zero chemistry between the 2 leads.

    By the way, I love the comment about “shipping”. In real life, people get FIRED for dating co-workers so I am so sick of having office romances shoved down my throat on so many shows…as if the leads have no lives or friends outside the office.

    • PatriciaLee says:

      It’s probably cheaper for the casting that way, so they probably have them write the stories with such budget concerns. Maybe the shippers are the ones that pay big bucks for pay for view stuff. It is sure obvious that nothing is straightforward, these days.

  33. Michael says:

    I like it, that’s the bottom line. They need to give it a chance, and not judge it so soon. I like the time era, it makes it more interesting. I think could be a good show.

  34. Robert Miller says:

    Give up your job and give it to someone with an open mind it’s critics like you that ruin some of the best shows on tv because too many people sent smart snuff to judge for themselves the show is a 10 out of 10 please do us a favor and become a food critic and give your job to someone with a brain!!!!

  35. Yoko says:

    What kind of sheep actually read this review and then say I’m not watching it. It’s one mans personal like or dislike. Sorry but screw the reviewers and watch it for yourself. We lose lots of good shows because trolls rely on a critics reviews. Make your own decisions for pete’s sake.

  36. Apophis99 says:

    This show is so mind numbingly boring I couldn’t get through the pilot. They should bring back Lucifer, even reruns of it would be better than H&D.

  37. t. tanner says:

    It wasn’t designed to be a mind teaser it was designed to be different and fun . And as a former actor you need to allow them to find their nich. I however agree that the writing should be more edge and accurate. So instead of blaming the actor as our superficial society often does. Its the writers and moronic producers who should be canned not the actors. Who do their best with the scripts given. It’s hard enough to beat the odds and just get a job in the film and TV industry. But it doesn’t take much to be a critic. Their as arrogant, useless as a career politician and as pathetic as a former president.

  38. PatriciaLee says:

    Don’t miss episode 7, which may go down as one of the top ten tv episodes of all time! Episode 7 was fantastic! Catch it!

  39. How can you not like this show, BEST ON ANY NETWORK!! Please more seasons.

  40. Barbara Porter says:

    i am unhappy that houdini and doyle has been cancelled…fox did not give it much hype or advertising…i found out about it by accident…i was immediately impressed. and hooked….the characters were interesting and intelligent….following a crime with great dialogue and reasoning …. without having to resort to beating up people and do fantastic stunts to get our attention….to me is a shame that this show was cancelled…………

  41. Luis says:

    I was a good deal more taken with “H&D” than Michael was. I thought the juxtaposition between the period setting and the modern music was clever and the chemistry between the three leads grew as the season went on. I particularly enjoyed the layered performance of Stpehen Mangan as Conan Doyle, showing the docgtor’s devotion to his comatose wife, his pride in and worry for his children, and his arm’s length relationship with his great creation, Sherlock Holmes. I’m sorry to see it won’t come back.

    • PatriciaLee says:

      Well, they did leave us with this masterpiece of Doyle coming to terms with Holmes. Hopefully, some billionaire is a fan and will restart the series in the future.

  42. Tom says:

    I am disappointed, I enjoyed the series and was looking forward to the next 😕

  43. T Griffith says:

    Do the networks think we are brainless. They take good programs off tv and put on crap. Houdini and Doyle was a nice show. I guess if there is no sex and drugs then it is not worth airing. Sex drug and rock roll may not make it back either, it has all the makings of a good show. Come on networks listen to the people who actually watch tv.

  44. Diane M says:

    My husband and I really enjoyed Houdini and Doyle. We are 60 years old and like some others in and around our age group don’t always go to the internet to voice our opinion on tv shows. So many shows are canceled because they don’t get enough reviews on FB or Twitter or whatever other means there are on the internet. So sad!!!

  45. Linda Wagner says:

    We loved Houdini & Doyle and were expecting the new season. Sorely disappointed it wasn’t renewed. We felt it an excellent program and always looked forward to each new show. Please reconsider bringing it back!