This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 19th March 2016.
Houdini & Doyle: Sunday, STV
Inside Obama’s White House: Tuesday, BBC Two
Jo Brand’s Hell of a Walk for Sport Relief: Thursday, BBC One
A slapdash heap of clumsy old bunkum, Houdini & Doyle takes a dubious premise – what if legendary escapologist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been a crime-busting duo in Edwardian London? – and unravels hopelessly before your very eyes.
ITV obviously have no faith in this woebegone attempt to rip off BBC favourites Sherlock and Jonathan Creek, hence why they bunged episode one out at 10:15pm on a Sunday before relegating the rest of the series to their subscription channel ITV Encore. Even the cast, including a woefully miscast Stephen Mangan as Doyle, look embarrassed.
I detected genuine pain in Mangan’s voice when, after ploughing through 50 minutes of poorly-written drivel, he cried, “What the hell just happened?!” I’ve seen episodes of Scooby-Doo with more depth.
Houdini and Doyle, who share no chemistry whatsoever, are your “classic” odd couple. Houdini is a chirpy rationalist. Doyle believes in the spirit world. Assisted by a bland female police officer with an incongruous modern outlook, they investigate crimes with a supposedly supernatural bent.
The biggest mystery of all, one which even they could never solve, is how a drama which, at a push, could’ve succeeded as an agreeable piece of daft escapism has reached the screen in such a charmless, empty, ill-conceived state.
When even the most powerful man in the world can’t get what he wants, what chance does anyone have? That was the sobering message behind our introductory visit to Inside Obama’s White House, a riveting new series from documentary heavyweights Norma Percy and Brian Lapping.
It’s typical of their work in that it plunges viewers into the rapid torrents of recent political history via frank contributions from the people who were actually involved: history unfolding as insider drama. Although he only appeared via archive footage in episode one, an in-depth interview with Obama himself will feature later on.
By focusing on his first 100 days in office, when the powerful wave of optimism surrounding him was immediately punctured by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it showed how, despite his obvious political nous, he never stood much of a chance of delivering on his nation-changing promises. Indeed, it seems nigh on impossible to achieve anything as President if the banks and the Senate are against you.
And yet somehow, in the middle of this epic marathon of struggle and frustration, Obama seemed to remain impossibly cool and unflappable. That’s a legacy of sorts, I suppose.
He’s the sort of person who could pull off a grueling charity challenge without breaking a sweat, so maybe that’s something he can focus on when he exits the White House. Who wouldn’t support a fancy-dress fun run with Barack Obama?
If Jo Brand’s Hell of a Walk for Sport Relief taught us anything, it’s that the huddled masses are only too happy to come out in force for famous faces raising money for charity, even if that involves standing around and waving in the freezing winter rain.
Over seven days recently, Brand walked 135 miles from the Humber Bridge to Liverpool, partly as a way of encouraging other overweight, older women to keep fit.
But there was a compassionate political subtext to her ordeal, as she trudged across the once thriving industrial north to meet unemployed people from disadvantaged communities, whose straightforward generosity stood in stark contrast to the selfishness and greed of our egregious government overlords.
A quietly subversive hour of television.