Well this looks daft. I rolled my eyes at the advert, but then I wondered, is it too silly, or just silly enough?
As long as a show is well-written, the acting isn’t too hammy and there’s some spectacular effects we’ll sit through a lot of stuff that sounds like absolute guff written down. For examples please see fantasy/ fairy tale horror Grimm (now inexplicably in its fifth season), fantasy/ fairy tale mash-up Once Upon a Time (totally ridiculous premise, carried off with some significant flair), ’90s cultural touchstone Buffy (Teenage Mutant Vampire Hunter) etc etc.
Recently ITV has been home to a genuinely awful horror/ drama based on the much loved literary classic Jekyll and Hyde. This was cancelled after one series due to poor viewing figurers, despite causing a hoo-har over graphic and monstrous scenes of horror broadcast at tea-time. If that was the first I’d heard of it I would have watched it to see what all the fuss was about. Sadly I’d seen episode one and it was clearly a show that was shittier than the sum of its parts. So let’s be clear about this, when it comes to fantasy/ horror lit classics ITV has something to prove.
Houdini & Doyle has no time to waste. Immediately the two leads are in peril. This is the start of the 20th century but it feels very familiar. Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle are bros with top bantz and hipster hair. These historical figures are great mates with strong and conflicting views on the supernatural. Here the show is loosely based in fact – Conan Doyle’s most famous creation Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t have stood for it but the author had an obsession with the supernatural. Harry Houdini’s career was based on making people believe the impossible but he spent his days off debunking supernatural nonsense and bringing down spiritualists and mediums who prey on the week and grief-stricken.
With their flashing eyes and cheeky grins we can be sure we’re in great company with the affable Stephen Mangan (no fake Scottish accent for his Doyle) and the enthusiatic Michael Weston, sporting some improbable hair.
Even with a ghosts on the prowl knifing crooked nuns, charlatan mediums in tasteful parlours, glass coffins and storm drains filled with our dashing heroes and rising water, the most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing was the female police constable Adelaide Stratton . At the turn of the century. The 20th century that is. In a home-made uniform and floppy hat. “Suspend your disbelief!” yells the story, “we’re very feminist and we have a sob story about mothers and daughters, and important points about equality to make”. Yes, the feminism is strong in this one, but about 20 years too early.
Also, even with the threat of a celebrity hissy fit (Don’t you know who I am?!) why on earth would the mutton-chopped Chief Inspector let them investigate? It’s all very flimsy, but much more enjoyable that you’d imagine.
The bromance continues and you can see they’re bessie mates in the way that Doyle looks at Houdini (lol Harry, top bantz, let’s ditch the girl and get a cheeky Nandos) and how Harry has a full set of Sherlock Holmes books on his shelf. Awwww.
If they can keep up the pace and other nonsense that this first episode gleefully employs, and critically not let the joshing descend into smugness then this could be a very entertaining romp through Victorian London when you want some brain-off time in front of the telly.
Strangely the first episode was on regular ITV but the remaining series will only be available on ITV Encore, the paid-for service. I guess if it does the job it may be available on the ITV online service at some point. If you’ve got Sky or similar, search out the ITV Encore channel.