Houdini September 1-2, 9 p.m., History.
The life of legendary magician and escape artist Harry Houdini gets juiced up in the slick History miniseries Houdini, which turns both his feats of prestidigitation and his personal life into fodder for cheap suspense. Houdini boasts strong production values and a compelling lead performance from Adrien Brody, but it’s full of clichéd dialogue and overblown dramatic moments, with elaborate CGI sequences depicting simple acts like lock-picking.
Veteran screenwriter Nicholas Meyer sticks to a pretty standard biopic structure, tracing Houdini’s evolution from a street-corner kid magician to an international superstar, and focusing mainly on his relationships with his wife Bess (Kristen Connolly) and his mother. Most of the connections that Meyer and director Uli Edel attempt to draw between Houdini’s death-defying acts and his psychological issues come off as forced. They also make the dubious choice of focusing a good portion of the first episode on Houdini’s alleged work as a spy in the years leading up to World War I, in what looks like a desperate bid to add more excitement. Meanwhile, Houdini’s more widely known careers as an aviation pioneer and a movie star get dismissed in short montages. Unlike its subject, who performed feats that people remembered their whole lives, Houdini is entirely forgettable.