The late Douglas Adams is often held by many as one of the funniest and most inventive writers Britain has ever produced. From his beginnings in writing sketches for the likes of Monty Python to eventually creating his magnum opus, the wildly creative, whimsically surreal and hilarious series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams was a fountain of creativity that few have been able to match since his death in 2001.
One of the lesser known figures from Adam’s work is that of Dirk Gently, the protagonist of three novels, which follow the titular “holistic” detective as he embarks on a series of surreal cases, sometimes involving time travel, an unmovable sofa, ghosts, robotic monks and all manner of bizarre events, attempting to solve them by following the connectivity of the universe.
Several have adapted the character for radio and television, with the most recent coming courtesy of Netflix and BBC America who have collaborated to produce Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a somewhat Americanised approach to the character that attempts to carve its own path, while still honouring the work of Douglas Adams, with somewhat mixed results.
The series follows Todd, a young man who is having possibly the worst day of his life, in which he loses his job, is about to be evicted from his apartment, has little to no money left and to make matters worse, is made a “person of interest” in a gruesome murder that occurred in the hotel in which he formally worked. Todd’s already bad day is made all the stranger by the arrival of Dirk Gently, an eccentric “holistic” detective who recruits Todd to help to solve an increasingly strange case involving energy vampires, time travellers, government agents, a “holistic assassin” and body swapping rock stars, all of which seems to be connected to a missing girl.
Elijah Wood makes for a sympathetic sidekick as Todd, with Wood’s seemingly perpetual “puppy dog eyes” making the character particularly endearing, yet still allowing us to laugh at the increasingly bizarre misfortune that befalls him. The character is however much more complex than a mere sidekick, with the series eventually revealing him to be a very different kind of character than we initially think him to be, with Wood playing these moments expertly.
Samuel Barnett takes the title role as Dirk Gently, the eccentric investigator who believes that everything in the universe is connected in some way and prefers to follow fate to help solve his cases, even if he has no idea where this approach will take him. Gently is wisely kept as an Englishmen like his literary counterpart, with Barnett clearly having fun with the character, portraying him with an infectious limitless level energy and zest, but I feel that Barnett is at his best when portraying the character’s more sombre characteristics such as the characters deep loneliness which he barely manages to hide beneath his outwardly positive demeanour.
The supporting cast is also on fine form, with Fiona Dourif’s “holistic assassin” Bart, who uses the connectivity of the universe to dictate who she kills, being the standout in my mind, with her seemingly channelling the voice of her father (cult favourite Brad Dourif) to portray a mixture of terrifyingly dangerous and comically tragic to brilliant effect.
Now I should have mentioned this earlier, I have never actually read any of Douglas Adams work. While I have heard of his writings and am aware of his significant influence, so I can’t attest to the faithfulness of this attempt to adapt the Gently novels.
The series despite its bizarre premise, (with it involving time travel, secret mazes, and kittens with the souls of sharks to name but a few odd moments) and origins as a trio of comic novels is not entirely a comedy. While having its share of weird characters doing weird things, the series is much dramatic in its approach, with the Gently character being a much more tragic figure than his energetic personality would suggest, being a lonely individual who is desperate for someone to join him in his “cases”, the series is also surprisingly violent at times with a fair amount of death and gore on display.
The jokes in the more comic moments are a mixed bag, with some of them landing and others not really managing to take off. The moments I thought were the strongest and indeed funniest where the moments of Todd and Dirk simply bantering back and forth, with Todd acting as the increasingly irritated “straight man” to Dirk’s rambling tangents, those expecting a laugh a minute, however, might be a tad disappointed with the show are more dramatic, and often violent, focus.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is not an easy show to recommend but it’s far from being a bad show, it just might not be for everyone.
The performances, especially those of Barnett and Wood, make for a wide array of entertaining moments and the surreal humour, when it works, can be very funny indeed. The completely bonkers plot (which I don’t think is supposed to make sense) might put off those hoping for a more conventional detective series and die-hard Douglas Adams fans might be irritated by possible changes made to the character and mythos of Dirk Gently.
Overall, though, despite the rather mixed result of this first season, I enjoyed most of it a great deal and found it to be incredibly addictive viewing. With a second season due sometime later in 2017 there is still time to iron out these flaws and further develop the show’s stronger elements further and hopefully allow the series to become something possibly brilliant.
[rating=3] | Graeme Robertson
Supernatural, comedy | USA, 2016 | 15 | Netflix | Online Now | Dir.Max Landis | Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Douriff