Roush Review: A Charming Irish Hero; An Odd Coupling of Houdini & Doyle

Matt Roush
Jack Irish
Acorn TV

Scruffy, scrappy and charmingly self-deprecating—he considers himself "barely plankton" on the human food chain—Jack Irish is like an Australian Jim Rockford, scraping by in the margins of Melbourne as a shaggy-dog private eye and occasional debt collector. Given life by the sheepishly yet seriously charismatic Guy Pearce, who starred in several TV-movies that led to a terrific new six-part Jack Irish series being streamed weekly by Acorn TV, Jack takes so many bloodily bruising lumps he looks more victim than hero by the time the twisty story ends.

But have no doubt, even though he indulges an occasional whiskey bender when things look bleak, Jack is a perfectly imperfect hero whose company you'll relish, gracing the most grim tidings with an undercurrent of sly, sardonic humor.

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His latest case involves a "happy-clappy" megachurch that's a deadly front for sinister schemes extending all the way to the Philippine island of Mindanao, where, by the sort of coincidence this genre demands, his sometimes girlfriend Linda (Marta Dusseldorp, star of Acorn's superior legal drama Janet King) is pursuing a story about homegrown terrorism. With romance, exotic suspense and dry wit, Jack's the whole package.

Houdini & Doyle

FOX

Stephen Mangan, Michael Weston

HARRY & SIR ARTHUR: Houdini & Doyle may sound like a jokey law firm, but any amusement to be found in the fictionalized odd-couple crime-solving partnership of Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle is sadly short-lived in Fox's stilted Canadian-British import. Too soon, it becomes clear that they're just a turn-of-the-last-century precursor to The X-Files' Mulder and Scully, with considerably less chemistry.

Escape artist/magician Houdini, charmlessly played by Michael Weston as a hyperactive motormouth, is the rationalist skeptic, determined to debunk the spiritual and supernatural theories of true-believer Doyle, given an overly stuffy spin by Episodes star Stephen Mangan. They knew each other in real life, though little rings authentic in the quaintly tongue-in-jowl high concept that puts their spooky exploits under the supervision of an ambitious female constable (Rebecca Liddiard) who, unlike this harmless trifle, is ahead of her time.

If the genuine articles were as forgettable as they are here, Sherlock Holmes might be just a dim memory. But we can take a cue from Houdini and escape at our leisure.

Jack Irish, Series Premiere, Monday, May 2, Acorn TV.  The series will stream weekly through May 30. 

Houdini & Doyle, Series Premiere, Monday, May 2, 9/8c, Fox.