A House Community
FOX (ended 2012)
I come from the future to abduct your SOs and spoil shows for you that haven't aired yet! Ha! I always wanted to say that.

Really, though, I don’t have a mystery machine that looks into the future and lets me watch shows. Houdini & Doyle doesn’t premiere on U.S. Fox until May 2, but it’s a joint American/Canadian/UK production. So it’s been airing in the UK on ITV Encore since March 13, and then switched to Thursday nights. So this week, the April 21 episode will be the seventh. But it won't air on Fox until... June 13.

For those who haven’t seen the previews on Fox, Houdini & Doyle is about Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In real life they were friends until Houdini’s attacks on mediums caused a rift between the two. Houdini was a skeptic, Doyle was a believer. Quicker than you can say, “Hey, that sounds kinda like Scully & Mulder on X-Files,” David Hoselton and David N. Tilcher (The Librarians) decided to put together a show that ran with the premise.

It’s really not a premise that allows for much variation so far, since the show is firmly in the “science over the supernatural” camp. So for the first three episodes, the seemingly supernatural activities have down-to-earth explanations. The fourth episode, “Spring Heel’d Jack,” is just weird. It leaves the door open for a real supernatural occurrence to have... umm, occurred? But without having seen the last six episodes of ten for the season, I’m going to guess that they’re going to mostly stick with the whole “science wins!” approach. H&D doesn’t seem to be intended as a supernatural-type Ghostbusters show.

If the name David Hoselton sounds familiar, it’s because he was a producer and a supervising producer on House. (He was also an executive producer and the writer on the thankfully failed 1987 Justice League of America pilot, but let’s try and ignore that.) And hey, David Shore is listed as an executive producer for H&D. And guess what show he created and executive produced? No, not Justice League, sillies. House.

And Michael Weston, who plays Houdini, also had a recurring gig as squirrelly private investigator Lucas Douglas on… House. So clearly, him, Hoselton, and/or Shore are good drinking buddies. Or Weston has compromising photos of the two producers.

My point is that H&D is very much a House type show. It has English TV sensibilities, to be sure. But basically Doyle and Houdini are what you’d end up with if you took Gregory House’s personality and split it down the middle. That’s no surprise, given the obvious fondness Shore et al. have for Sherlock Holmes. There are Holmes references a plenty scattered throughout House. So here they get to play with the Great Detective a lot closer as they portray his creator.

(I’m surprised they never did a House type 1890s episode with House as Holmes. Hey, if it worked for Sherlock)

Anyhoo, Weston is well-cast as Houdini. Much better then Adrien Brody on the Houdini bio-pic on History Channel back in September 2014. But then again, Weston doesn’t have to portray Houdini over the course of roughly 30 years, either. Weston is a (relatively) short pugnacious celebrity who is basically Gregory House’s dick side. He sleeps around, hits on women, and treats his friends like crap.

Doyle is the medical and deductive side of Greg House. There is often some kind of medical clue that he's always spotting, just like House did when making diagnoses. He also has a bit of Dr. Wilson from House in him. Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Dirk Gently) doesn’t make as big an impression as Doyle, as Weston does with Houdini. But he’s an adequate performer, and the kids playing Doyle’s son and daughter are decent actors.

Since it's 21st century TV, you can't have a major American drama without a strong female presence. Enter Rebecca Liddiard, the show's primary Canadian actress and a minor performer in last year's Between. She's game enough as Adelaide Stratton, Scotland Yard's first female constable. In real life, the first female constable wasn't employed by the Yard until 1919, but see historical accuracy below. Ms. Liddiard keeps up with the banter going on between Mangan and Weston.

Tim McInnery (Doctor Who's "Planet of the Oood", Lord Percy Percy on Blackadder) has the thankless role of Chief Inspector Merring, the head of Scotland Yard and the authority figure who is constantly undermined by Houdini, Doyle, and Adelaide. Adam Nagaitis has the even more thankless role of Sgt. Gudgett, the guy who gets to sneer and be all "Oh she's just a woman" with Adelaide.

The show is five parts House, three parts Scooby Doo, and two parts X-Files. The primary focus of the show is faith versus science, which Hoselton and Shore whipped out repeatedly on House. In "In Manus Dei," the third episode, this conflict is explicit when the team takes on the case of a faith healer (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Misfits and Utopia) whose hecklers have a tendency to turn up "accidentally" dead. Doyle turns to the healer to cure his comatose tuberculosis-ridden wife, and Houdini starts suffering from psychosomatic illnesses after he dismisses the healer as a fraud. Or are they God's vengeance?

H&D is partially traditional Scooby Doo because it goes for the scientific over the fantastical. At least in the first four episodes, there's always a "rational" explanation for the seemingly supernatural occurrences. You keep expecting the murderer to exclaim, "And I would have gotten away with it if not for you meddling late 19th century real-life celebrities!"

And the cases have a very X-Files feel to them. A reincarnated murder victim coming back to kill his killer. A ghost killing nuns. A faith healer whose powers may be real. If these weren't X-Files episodes then they should have been.

The mysteries aren't particularly mysterious. They are typically TV mysteries, where there's really only one obvious suspect and, sure enough, it turns out that they're the killer. H&D is at its strongest when the main characters are bouncing off of each other. The bits in the first episode, "The Maggie's Redress", where Doyle and Houdini are trapped in a rapidly-filling storm drain and arguing about who will get the bigger headline when their deaths are listed, is a good example. Houdini's momentous ego provides much of the laughs. Like Greg House, Houdini always has to be the center of attention and the smartest guy in the room.

H&D is a period drama, which British producers can do in their sleep. The subplots are kinda eh, but then we're only four episodes into it. Doyle has his home life so there's a lot of stuff about his kids, Houdini has some weird stuff going on with his mother and his so-far-absent father, and Adelaide has a mysterious past and a missing husband who seems to be tied in with some kind of Illuminati group. Maybe Merring and Gudgett are secretly lovers, but I doubt it.

As a warning, the historical accuracy is all over the map here. Doyle's son Kingsley was born in 1892, placing the series in roughly 1902 since the boy is about 10 here. The London General Omnibus Company plays a part in "Spring Heel'd Jack," and it started using motor omnibuses in 1902.

However, there's no mention (yet) of Doyle's second wife, Jean, who he met in 1897 and had a platonic relationship with until his first wife's death in 1906. Holmes is still dead, and won't be "resurrected" until 1903, which fits with what's given in the show. On the other hand, Houdini didn't go after spiritualists until the 1920s, but he is shown as targeting mediums here. He didn't perform the Chinese Water Torture Cell escape until 1913. And... there's no mention of Houdini's wife Bess, who he married in 1894. And Doyle and Houdini didn't meet until 1920.

So the whole thing is real-life-continuity-wise, a bit of a mess. For those watching H&D expecting historical accuracy, it's about as accurate as Penny Dreadful. So be warned.

Also, don't go in looking for any deep exploration of how two such disparate personalities as Doyle and Houdini ever became friends. It's presented as more of a fait accompli. They meet in the first episode, they wager on whether a ghost murdered two nuns or it was a human killer, and they're off solving crimes together.

Overall, H&D is a perfectly acceptable light summer mystery/drama/comedy. It's watchable, and House fans will find it entertaining enough. Non-House fans, equally so. Don't go in expecting anything too deep or dramatic, and you won't be disappointed.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (7)
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Jul 04, 2016
I came here from a link in a Fox article about them needing to stop doing partner shows and I'm not sure what their problem was has it been done a lot lately yes but I like the shows. I like this show and yes it does remind me a bit of Murdoch Mysteries but whats wrong with that there is a lot about it that doesn't remind me IMHO what we have too much of is reality Survior etc but to each his own I do have to go back again because I totally missed that House lived at 221B
May 04, 2016
Hold on to your hats because there also will be aliens. how can it not? The dialogue isn't exactly chronistic either because nobody in 1901 used the expression "garbage in is garbage out" for instance. This is a expression used in computer science meaning that if the input is wrong, the output also will be wrong. There are plenty more examples of this. So it's more a fantasy show than a period piece because the anachronisms are too many to ignore. But that's O.K.

The Juxtaposition between the supernatural (or more broadly the inexplicable) and science is interesting. In reality they aren't a dichotomy of course. They aren't mutually exclusive. For example there's a natural phenomenon called hypnosis. This induced state of extreme suggestibility works even on animals. But science doesn't have an explanation how and why it works. Hypnosis remains an enigma. There's so much we still don't know about ourselves and the universe. Science hasn't got an answer for everything and nor does it claim to do so. And what would be the fun in that? What is life without a little mystery?

I don't believe in the supernatural but i find the phenomena interesting study material. What is clear is that people do have strange experiences that can't be explained with science. I used some psychedelics when i was younger and then you start to experience strange and mystical things. I could see sound coming from my speakers in all colors of the rainbow moving and rotating and dancing to the rhythm. Scientists call this synesthesia. It was beautiful. Another experience was that i was riding on my bicycle and i was going through a tunnel but this tunnel had no end. In my mind the experience lasted hours but it must have been only minutes. (Warning: Don't be an idiot like me. Don't ride a bicycle when you're tripping balls)

Also when recalling moments of extreme alarm, such as the split second before a car crash or a bungee jump, people often talk about time "freezing' or things happening in slow motion. (slow motion perception)

These experience are created by your own brain because the drugs or the high stress situation influence certain kind of neurotransmitters. This is the scientific explanation. These experiences gave me the insight that t
he mind creates its own reality. We have a blind spot on our retinas but the brain just fills in the blanks and we don't notice it. And i'm glad it does because it wouldn't be fun watching TV.
Science is great but it never made me lose my sense of wonder.

I wouldn't have compared this show to House. But now that i think about it House was kind of a medical Sherlock Holmes with the same somewhat abrasive personality as him. so the connection with Doyle's most famous character are there. My first thought when watching the show was Bones. Brennan is the hardcore atheist scientist type who believes in evolution. Booth is a creationist and a devout Catholic. It's the old "opposites attract" trope and it creates tension and drama and so ideal for a drama TV show.

Houdini and Doyles is lightweight, mildly entertaining summer fare. Why Lightweight? "True" procedurals like Sherlock and Elementary are heavyweight and also much better written than this.

But if you're like me and you like shows like Lost, X-files, sense8 and The Twilight zone. It's more fun than Cory suggests but it's not essential either.

May 04, 2016
"But now that i think about it House was kind of a medical Sherlock Holmes with the same somewhat abrasive personality as him. so the connection with Doyle's most famous character are there."

Based on what the producers said, and all the Holmes in-jokes that Shore & Co. scattered around House (House living at 221B, characters named Moriarty and Irene), House was always somewhat of a homage to Holmes. Scenes like the bits where Doyle identifies people's underlying illnesses by seemingly unrelated symptoms like triple-jointedness and cracked fingernails are very House-like, IMO.
May 04, 2016
"either because nobody in 1901 used the expression "garbage in is garbage out..."

Ah, but can you prove that no one in the entire year 1901 in the entire world said that at any time? :)

It's not Harry is talking about Turing Machines or anything. I imagine GIGO was first invented by someone who heard someone else talking about it in a non-computer way. And they heard it from somewhere else, and they heard it from somewhere else... going back decades.
May 04, 2016
The first use of the term has been dated to a November 10, 1957 syndicated newspaper article about US Army mathematicians and their work with early computers... It's derived from LIFO ("Last In, First Out") and FIFO (“First In, First Out”) which became computing terms for ways to manage the stacking and order of processing of data. Accountants had been using them to describe ways of managing stock levels or valuing a company’s goods at least since the 1930s, though the acronyms only appeared in print for the first time around 1945.
Apr 18, 2016
I'm surprised to see all the House connections as I hated that show but do find this mildly entertaining. I never expect lightweight tv shows like this to be historically accurate so that hasn't bothered me either.
Apr 19, 2016
I'm not sure it's supposed to be lightweight, anymore than House was supposed to be lightweight. I get the impression the writers and producers consider the whole science vs. supernatural/faith thing to be very important. It's not just the premise of the show (and the Houdini/Doyle friendship), but particularly with the third episode "In Manus Dei", it's a full-out debate.

As somewhat of a Houdini fan, and to a lesser degree a Doyle fan, I just find it weird that they're mixing two disparate eras: 1902 Doyle and 1920s Houdini. There are also several noticeable omissions: the removal of Houdini's wife being the most significant. She was a major part of his life, but she disappears without a trace here.

I understand why they're doing what they're doing. But it's still an awkward fit.
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