Certainly not for everyone but far less of an acquired taste than first thought, this is a surprising hit that effortlessly rewards perseverance.
Though most people are blissfully aware of Douglas Adams’ epic Hitchhiker’s Guide series, the same cannot usually be said for his cult novels Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Although they are not set in space, or in a universe where the Earth has been demolished, the new series based on the novels is occasionally more strenuous but infinitely more thrilling that having dinner with a vogon.
Some shows are made for binging. It’s not that they don’t have that ability to go all the way, but the build-up of plot means everyone watching is held to ransom awaiting that sweet release. Dirk Gently is one of those. I was surprised to like it as much as I did, because underneath all the craziness, there is one hell of a wicked yet slightly wacky mystery to solve; worth all the faff. Faff that is meant to be there, put there by the late and wonderfully weird Douglas Adams; but faff that, to begin with, can feel like swimming through treacle.
Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) is a holistic detective, who solves crimes by simply waiting for things to happen and for things to reveal themselves. Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) becomes attached to one of his meandering crimes, and begrudgingly helps him solve the mystery of the missing teen Lydia Spring (Alison Thornton), along with Farah Black (Jade Eshete). There is also his sister Amanda (Hannah Marks), who suffers from a peculiar fictional disease called pararibulitis which induces imaginary pains and sensations, and then about a million other characters that all warrant an explanation, but there just isn’t enough space or time to fit all this holism on the page. Let’s just say the whole cast is diverse and quirky and interesting and interconnected; and leave it at that?
Elijah Wood is the calming figure to neutralise (with adequate enough success) Barnett’s energetic Gently, and the two work well together as a pair. His well-known face was something to latch onto amid the madness. But equally, if not more enjoyable was the partnership of Fiona Dourif and Mpho Koaho as Bart and Ken. With Bart, you can witness holism in action as a holistic assassin, who kills whomever she feels needs to be killed. Their tentative and believable relationship is still weird, but it’s also really human and sweet. The simplicity of it all, in comparison to Dirk’s wound up mess of a mystery that needs unraveling, was satisfying to say the least. All these killings were neither random nor cruel, but necessary and oddly life affirming.
The series itself was not trying to be clever; it just was. The genius of Adams fuelled this series and propelled it forward, but kudos to Max Landis for actually pulling it off and envisaging it in this form. As you watch it you can just tell that if they had done things just a little differently they could have screwed the pooch (as in, Rapunzel the corgi, who, believe it or not, is a main character). Trying to hit an audience repeatedly over the head with its cleverness is not an attractive trait in a series (cough cough Doctor Who cough Sherlock). The holism of the series was the thing, and that thing made it, maybe slightly flawed and a tad confusing, satisfying as hell. It is Americanised and sensationalised, but the English character transfers easily into this fast paced Hollywood buzz with a supernatural twist as the fast talking quirky British guy who’s a stranger to the shores and the mind.
It probably had the potential to be funnier, but it was pretty funny. Dirk could occasionally have been toned down a little, but you soon come to understand that that is just Dirk being Dirk. You learn along with Todd that he has absolutely no control over who his friends are and the trajectory of his life in general, and Dirk represents that untameable aspect of everything; no wonder he’s annoying.
There were a few killer twists and turns that will catch you off guard, but it’s treacle like consistency and few instances of taking things a bit too far reigns the series in a little from the five star shelf. All in all however, a brilliant little show that has its flaws but is ultimately worth the sacrifice of the constant furrowed brow it induces.
Stream all of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency now on Netflix.