Watching Dirk Gently, I found it… Odd. Odd but strangely alluring. Something about the show kept me watching and somehow inspired a sense of nostalgia. Dirk Gently is based on some of Douglas Adams’ (lesser known) work, of the same name but strangely, I felt nostalgia from the first time I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Because, unlike the Hitchhiker movie, Dirk Gently feels like a Douglas Adams creation. BBC America have done a fantastic job at keeping their show as weird and wonderful as Adams reads on the page, they’ve quite possibly even improved on the BBC Four, UK version that was released a few years back. While the UK version may have been more true to the source material, I believe the Americanised changes help capture the spirit of Adams’ writing if not the details, at least for me.
Given just how strange the show is, and the creativity of Adams, in a word you can call Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, “unique”. Actually explaining what genre it fits in though is a trial in and of itself but I’ll give it a go. It is a supernatural, universally holistic, extra dimensional, temporal, murder mystery with some body swapping, assassins, cults and organizational do-baddery thrown in to the mix. Yeah, that’s about it… there’s even more going on but I honestly don’t have a good enough grasp of the English language to sum it up. At least the show is aware of how convoluted it seems, to quote the main character “There’s a tremendous amount of moving pieces here, we can’t pin them all down now”.
In Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency we follow a normal man, named Todd (played by Elijah
Wood) who witnesses himself leaving the murder of a man named Patrick Spring. Shortly afterwards, meeting a “Holistic Detective” named Dirk Gently, who is trying to solve the very murder that Todd saw himself leaving, all the while, though blissfully unaware, Dirk is being hunted by a seemingly insane holistic assassin, Bart Curlish.
We are given a few different storylines to follow, with Dirk being the lynchpin throughout. Todd, Dirk and Bart are the main characters to begin with and we are then slowly introduced to more, including Todd’s sister who is sick with a mysterious disease, there’s a mysterious organization trying to track down “projects” one of which being Dirk, then there’s an even more mysterious evil cult that can body swap and who knows what else, and finally, two ordinary hapless cops, out of their depth, also trying to solve the Spring murder. I need to move on now though, since the word “mysterious” is starting to lose its meaning.
All of these plots are, of course, beautifully written and gloriously entwined, much like the premise of the show itself “Holistics”, the storylines are treated as part of a whole rather than individual stories. Not only is the writing strong but the show is backed up by pretty strong acting from some relatively lesser known actors. Fiona Dourif in particular gives an entrancing performance. The only thing you probably know her from would be True Blood, I didn’t watch it for long enough to get introduced to her character, so she was an unknown to me, but man, did she blow me away as Bart Curlish, the seemingly insane holistic assassin tasked with killing Dirk. Elijah Wood gives a good performance as well. Ever since Lord of the Rings, Elijah seems to have been picking and choosing his roles and I think he may have a type as he plays a similar character in Dirk Gently as he does in Wilfred.
(I will kick your ass back to the shire!)
The only slight problem I have in terms of acting is from Dirk himself, played by Samuel Barnett (Peaky Blinders) in that sometimes he seems fairly unauthentic. But I prefer to think of this as a character trait given that his performance in general is grand. In fact his performance adds a lot to the main element of the show, the mystery. Samuel/Dirk produces some Sherlockesque babble when trying to solve puzzles or follow clues but he does it with an entirely different air about him. In the UK version the connection to Sherlock is much stronger but in the US version Dirk doesn’t have the same slightly arrogant confidence that we love about Sherlock, instead showing his own kind of innocent brilliance.
One problem that I have with the show is that because we see the story from every angle through the different characters plots, the mystery unfolds naturally and due to the peculiarity of the show the viewer can’t really piece the mystery together themselves. So Dirk Gently ends up being a rollercoaster of a first watch but leaves no reason for multiple viewings. There’s nothing wrong with this per say, as I prefer a good first watch to having to struggle through just so stuff makes sense once you watch the entire show again.
On the surface, Dirk Gently seems excessively random but the longer you watch the more little veins of sense start to show themselves and the ingenuity of the material shines through. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is definitely not for everyone and I’m sure a lot of Adams fans will disagree with my views that by diverging from the source they got closer than ever to making Adams work on screen. Overall, it’s wacky, light hearted, and overly random and it’s pretty damn hard to get in to, but I really enjoyed it.