Two historical superstars are teaming up to solve the most puzzling crimes of the early 20th century. Fox’s new series sees famed illusionist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle working with the London police in 1901 to solve mysteries. The premise may sound exceptional, but beneath those famous names, Houdini and Doyle‘s pilot has the same bones as so many other crime dramas. Let’s break down the pilot by the tropes we know oh so well:
1. Buddy cops with conflicting beliefs
Although Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle are clearly good friends who share an interest in solving mysteries, their beliefs in what is behind the crimes they investigate are polar opposites. At the heart of this series is the tension caused by Houdini’s strict adherence to science and reason and Doyle’s belief in the supernatural. When a murder is perpetrated at an abbey and the only witness suspects the ghost of a nun who died 6 months earlier, Doyle is quick to believe the theory while Houdini instantly brushes it off as preposterous.
2. The wager
So aside from a shared natural curiosity, what gets these two famous figures to work together? A prize — and bragging rights. Houdini bets $10,000 that the murder at the abbey can be explained with science and reason, to which Doyle puts up a first edition copy of his new book that there are supernatural elements at work.
3. The overlooked female officer
There’s actually a third investigator helping Houdini and Doyle: Constable Adelaide Stratton. Of course, Stratton is only paired up with the two famous friends because her commanding officer sees their investigations as extraneous; he tells her right away, “While they play detective, you’ll play nursemaid, nothing more.” Stratton tells Doyle this is her first case, despite displaying resourcefulness and work ethic, as she’s never been assigned any real police work before due to the fact that she’s a woman. At the end, her commanding officer finally gives Stratton a better office, but only because Houdini praised her, and even that causes her boss to immediately assume she’s having an affair with the magician.
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4. The investigator mourning an ill wife
When Doyle visits a medium to help him find out more about the murders, the woman channels his wife to speak with him. Of course, we immediately assume that means his wife is dead, which seems to be reaffirmed when Houdini later asks him who died in his life that he can’t get over. However, the twist is that Doyle’s wife is actually alive but seems to be in a deep coma. Playing on the trope of investigators with deceased spouses, it’s clear Doyle focuses his attention on solving crimes to try and distract from his grief.
5. Revenge killings
Although Houdini believes the murders at the nunnery to be motivated by greed, our investigators discover in the end that the real motivator is revenge. The two murdered nuns that were responsible for Sister Lucy’s death 6 months ago were actually killed by Sister Grace, who we learn is Lucy’s mother. Grace even plans to kill herself for standing by and letting her daughter die but is stopped before she can slit her own throat.
I should add that it isn’t a bad thing that Houdini and Doyle contains these tropes — it wouldn’t really be a crime drama without them, after all! The pilot also contained some surprising twists (Doyle’s wife isn’t dead), is beautifully styled in full period splendor, and the playful banter between the two main characters is quick and insightful.