This week marks the premiere of ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ on BBC America, a television adaptation based on Douglas Adams’ famous novels. Adams of course is the same brilliant sci-fi novelist that created the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ and while the Dirk Gently series may not be as well-known, it’s certainly as elaborate and humorous.
The show is based on intrinsic detailing, this is not a show where you can miss a few episodes and rejoin, and spoilers are both useless to know and vital to avoid. I say useless to know because even if you overhear a character detail, a plot-point, or a story-line within the Dirk Gently universe – it’s further connection to the entire story of the episode (and the series overall) may be of the smallest importance. I say vital to avoid because each connection is a brilliant reveal, and watching them manifest within the story is most of the fun.
This is the bizarre interconnected world of Dirk Gently.
When I say ‘universe’ I should mention that I mean within the context of the story. This sci-fi series takes place on Earth during our modern time. This is a series that introduces the connection between all things great and small, obvious and sometimes invisible. Each clue and revelation, no matter how dramatic, always seems to become just the tiniest fragment of a larger picture – with no end in sight. This constant rise in dramatic tension can wear down your senses, and I must suggest that you do not binge this show – it’s simply too rich to ingest all in one sitting. The show was surprisingly violent at times, and I would stress that this is a “teens and up” series.
The story, without spoilers, follows the humdrum life of down on his luck Todd (played by Elijah Wood). Every moment of Todd’s life has been a let-down, and just as tedious and unfulfilling as the day before it. That is, right up until the day Todd’s life is completely turned around. Of course that’s the day he meets Dirk Gently (played by Samuel Barnett) which you will learn is never a coincidence. It also happens to be the same day that Todd starts to experience the thousands of connected-moments that have been happening all around him for decades.
Elijah Wood creates an exceptional focal point in the series. Wood has always found a way to remain relatable in his characters, even when those characters face outstanding and unworldly situations. Since all of these new ideas and situations are completely new to him as well, Wood is a wonderful actor to follow into the new series. It just so happens that Wood has played the role of a sanity-cringing protagonist before, and I think his time on ‘Wilfred’ was a perfect precursor for the role of Todd in this adaptation.
Samuel Barnett’s job of bringing Dirk Gently to life is a little bit trickier, certainly because fans of the novels will already have a concrete idea of how the detective acts and works within their brain. I’m currently three episodes in and Barnett is really coming into his own in the character. The show is still struggling a bit with setting up some of the dry humor on the series (there’s a line with a pen-knife that falls a little flat around episode two) but Barnett is treading the line very well. By the third-act in episode three the show really started to showcase Barnett’s talents more, and I’m very excited to see him take on more of the storyline moving forward.
It’s a tough job hands-down for Barnett, made even more complicated because of what is already so popular in the ‘know-it-all, strange-acting protagonist’ category. Sci-fi fans already have Doctor Who, who is also a white European Actor with almost the same characteristics as Dirk Gently, and most of America already knows Sheldon on the ‘Big Bang Theory’. It can be hard not to draw similarities when you first start out, but I think as the show progresses Barnett will create some wonderful original behaviors and ticks for Gently. I find it much more beneficial to the character overall to let these quirks and beats happen naturally, instead of being forced into the series by the actor or the director.
If you’re looking for a spoiler-free example of the ‘Dirk Gently’ connected universe, I can give you one with an orange. Imagine if an orange was going to fall off the counter, this is going to happen. Your actions throughout the day could mean that you are going to see the orange fall, or miss the event entirely while you were at work. You could be there when it happens and get scared from the noise and fall into your oven, or bang your head trying to catch it and be taken to the hospital. A hospital where you meet the mate of your dreams – named Grace Tropicana.
Maybe Dirk Gently knew the orange was going to fall, maybe he just had a feeling that you should be home today, you’ll never know (but that’s only the beginning, and you your miles away from learning why the orange fell).
The show is supported by some of the best group of characters in the business, and the castings are phenomenal. Neil Brown Jr. and Richard Schiff make a terrific pair of officers that work within the Missing Persons devision, and Miguel Sandoval and Dustin Milligan create a wonderful pair of mismatched operatives for the CIA.
More connected to our main characters are Todd’s sister, played by Hannah Marks, and Jade Eshete – a mysterious figure that seems to have connections to Dirk Gently. Marks only started to open up by the end of the third-episode, but by the third-act I already wanted to see more of her. Eshete is introduced much earlier and she takes charge of her character from the moment you see her on screen.
Without getting into any spoilers, the universe tends to balance out everything – and for every Dirk Gently there’s a Bart Curlish. This character is wonderfully portrayed by Fiona Dourif, in a role that will certainly leave an impression with viewers as the series continues. As curious as she is captivating, Dourif and her sidekick (played by Mpho Koaho) have some of the most interesting scenes in the first three-episodes – and they will probably be a few most talked about moments by the end of the month.
All in all, I feel everyone should give Dirk Gently a shot. Stick with it for three episodes and if you’re not hooked then I think you gave it all you could. Reading the original novels isn’t a requirement, and you don’t even have to be familiar with Adams’ previous works (though shame on you).
The show is a wonderful concoction of mystery, chaos and sci-fi craftsmanship, but remarkable in the sense that you don’t need to know what’s going on at any given moment. Dirk certainly doesn’t know what is going on, and you’ll learn that knowing details isn’t that important anyway.