'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency': TV Review

Keeps it refreshingly weird.
10/22/2016

Absurd and fun but probably not for everyone, 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' jumps from the pages of Douglas Adams to BBC America.

For every straightforward drama, there is a genre series that takes things a step or two into paranormal phenomena. And then a step or two beyond that are series that are completely different, or absurd or a combination of both, like a Doctor Who or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or Twin Peaks, etc.

Those are series you have to just go with — you have to willingly opt in — to enjoy.

This is most assuredly the case with BBC America's newest drama, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, which is based on the novels of Douglas Adams and adapted by Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle).

Any fan of Adams will know that there will be absurdist humor tossed into the sci-fi, and much of that here is light, woven in with comic banter and some slapstick physical stuff — an approach that is sometimes jarring as it contrasts with the very bloody and violent acts in the drama, but still something that works if you like that kind of thing. And you'll figure out very quickly in Dirk Gently whether you do.

This is one of those series that is bound to provoke conversation about whether or not it works as a concept and makes the leap effectively from the page to the screen (lots of people thought it would never happen). And there will undoubtedly be additional discourse on whether the TV version is worthy of its original author. But really Dirk Gently is mostly a fun, absurdist story that will have loads of weird twists and turns that involve a kitten that might be a shark, time travel, some entities that could be dumb vampires, animals that might be humans, a female assassin who can't be killed and many other oddities that you might or might not take to. Douglas described it as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-whodunit-time-travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic," but undoubtedly Landis will have his own spin.

Gently (Samuel Barnett) is a self-described "holistic" detective with a psychic ability to find connections in everything, though only some of it makes sense to those he's trying to convince. Whether it's nature or the world or something higher or more obtuse that puts him on earth to solve crimes and perhaps prevent other crimes, it's not entirely clear. You can assume that not much will be clear for a while, if ever, and that's part of the fun (because it's played that way, not because things are being purposely held back from the audience).

One of the changes that Landis makes is adding at least one character who's not in the book, Todd (Elijah Wood), who ends up unwillingly becoming a sidekick to Gently under very odd circumstances (and also, strangely, more of a central character in this version than Dirk Gently himself, though perhaps that will change in future episodes).

Fans of Wood on FX's vastly underrated gem, Wilfred, may be able to get into Dirk Gently faster than others (who haven't read the books) because Wood turns out to be very good at just going with it when things get strange — and you have an immediate rooting interest in him during both series.

The first two episodes of Dirk Gently will be an easy litmus test for fans of this kind of show, because it's all over the map (intentionally) and veers wildly in tone. In no particular order without much rhyme or reason, viewers will meet Amanda (Hannah Marks), Todd's sister who has Pararibulitis (a pretty awful disease where the mind affects the body in physical ways); Farah (Jade Eshete), a badass bodyguard; Ken (Mpho Koaho), a hacker who ends up in a very wrong place with Bartine (Fiona Dourif), a deadly "holistic" assassin; The Rowdy 3 who are really four; Gordon Rimmer (Aaron Douglas), leader of a cult called Men of the Machine; Seattle police detectives Zimmerfield (Richard Schiff) and Estevez (Neil Brown); and a CIA head (Miguel Sandoval) investigating paranormal activity.

Again, you pretty much have to opt in and just go with it to get Dirk Gently, but television needs absurdist/escapist fare that's not just dumbed down by the networks but has a sense of ambitious fun.

Cast: Elijah Wood, Samuel Barnett, Richard Schiff, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Fiona Dourif, Neil Brown, Miguel Sandoval, Dustin Milligan
Created and written by: Max Landis, based on the books by Douglas Adams
Airs: Saturdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT BBC America

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine

 

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