All right, so Houdini & Doyle has started playing in the USA on Fox. I first heard about the show back at 221B Con at the beginning of April. The show premiered over in the UK first and is re-airing over here. I don’t mind the delay, really. The original broadcast was back in March, which would have been lousy timing since like all of television was coming back for their final halves. I probably would have over looked this drama and never realized the fun I missed out on.
Because that’s the first thing I noticed about the show, it’s fun. In an era of too many detective shows and too many supernatural elements, finding an enjoyable take on the genre can be a challenge. But Houdini & Doyle does its best to escape from repetitive dullness of the case-of-the-week formula with engaging, complex characters. The main cast captivates, but so do the side characters. This last week we got more details about the police chief and what’s likely to be a recurring plot with Houdini’s mother.
Of course, the really intriguing ones are Houdini, Doyle, and Constable Adelaide Stratton. The show focuses on these three characters and their evolving relationship as Houdini and Doyle assist the police investigations into crimes where the ‘supernatural’ may occur. Doyle is attempting to prove the supernatural each time and Houdini is trying to disprove it. In a lot of ways, it’s like putting Richard Castle and Adrian Monk head to head while giving Detective Juliet O’Hara (Psych) the lead on the case. In the show, Doyle and Houdini share an adversarial friendship so that even when they disagree (which is about every time one of them opens their mouth about the case) they still display a healthy amount of respect. After gushing at their first meeting, Stratton shows them the same respect, often being the one who will engage with both the supernatural or mundane explanations. The other two might be the initial draw, but without Stratton in the mix, this could easily become another too-quirky buddy-cop dramedy (like Battle Creek or The Good Guys).
One of the things that keeps the trio interesting is also the limits and abilities of each character. You could make a character sheet easily out of what we’ve seen so far. Houdini, naturally, knows how to lockpick, pickpocket, escape bonds, and a host of other tricks involved with his time on stage. Doyle has medical knowledge and research skills. Stratton has her police knowledge and access to those records. They wind up complimenting each other beyond personality and even into their abilities, creating a much more cohesive investigation team.
The show takes place in the early 20th century, a notably sexist time frame, and instead of ignoring this, the show has made opened commentary on it. We as an audience know when Doyle and Houdini are sent to Stratton that it’s because no one is taking her or them seriously. Stratton even directly addresses this point. And she even points out when they whack her with a paradox when interviewing a particular witness, “So if I fail, it’s because I’m a bad investigator, but if I succeed it’s because I’m a woman?” Doyle and Houdini like to puff themselves up on occasion as being defenders of women, but they’re quickly called out on their microagressions as well. At the same time, this element of the storytelling isn’t overdone. It’s there and acknowledged, but not to the almost teeth-grinding way Agent Carter addressed the same topics.
We’re already in the middle of the season with only six more episodes to air. I’m already keeping my fingers crossed for a second season. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed intelligent dialogue and interesting characters and I’m hoping the rest of the show won’t disappoint.