Ever since I first read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in high school, I’ve been a huge fan of Douglas Adam. I love the way he wrote such entertaining prose and witty dialogue, and how nihilistic yet amusing his view of the universe was. And so, this will be the second review I’ll be writing for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The only difference is that I’m not writing about his 1987 novel, but the 2016 TV adaptation by BBC America.
The show takes place in modern-day Seattle, where a hotel bellhop named Todd (played by Elijah Wood) comes across a series of amazing and horrifying events, from meeting himself through a time travel accident to finding a penthouse suite full of eviscerated corpses. Naturally, this leads him into the path of eccentric detective Dirk Gently, who is investigating (among other things) the case of a missing woman, whose father was killed in the aforementioned penthouse suite. There’s also the issue of Bart Curlish, a “holistic assassin” who abducts a poor kid named Ken on her single-minded quest to find and kill Dirk Gently. And there’s also the matter of a secret government black ops team that’s tailing Dirk and other eccentrics like him, adding more chaos to the already confused picture.
From the moment I started watching, I was hopelessly in love with this series. It is every bit as wild and wonderful as the books that Douglas Adams wrote, and showrunner Max Landis deserves a lot of credit for that. The dialogue is bizarre (“Everything is connected. Nothing is also connected to everything.”), and there are so many quirks to Adams’s writing that shine out here, like every single dialogue between two police officers, or how Bart tries to explain her approach to killing people.
The cast is also pretty stellar. You’ve got Samuel Barnett channeling some version of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor into the role of Dirk Gently (which feels appropriate since Dirk Gently was originally a couple of Doctor Who scripts that Douglas Adams mashed and rewrote into a book). Contrast to him is Todd, a down-on-his-luck guy trying to look after his neurotic sister Amanda and doing far less heroic things than you might expect. I also didn’t expect to see Richard Schiff (whose performance of Toby from The West Wing I continue to adore) playing a no-nonsense cop. Nor did I realize how much I’d go from weirded out to straight-up eager when I saw Fiona Dourif as Bart Curlish, one of the most gritty and hilarious side characters yet. She is the black comedy burst in an otherwise fluffy series of adventures for Dirk and Todd.
I would caution, though, that this show is almost too good an adaptation of the style of the Dirk Gently books. While it follows your basic 5-act structure for an hour-long drama, I can appreciate how an audience that’s never read anything by Douglas Adams might feel lost or overwhelmed while watching. Some things happen so fast or seem so trivial that you can’t quite believe they’re happening. And yet, since this is a show about “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” all those random moments really do matter. They just might not pay off until closer to the season finale.
This show is fantastic in every sense of the word. It gave me a reason to watch more TV again. It’s everything that I wanted to see in the modern Doctor Who series: a wild, mind-bending, feel-good romp with a madman and his poor assistant.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is available through BBC America. New episodes air on Saturdays.
Bibliography: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (TV series). Created by Max Landis. Based on the book by Douglas Adams. Produced by Dean Parisot, David Alpert, Rick Jacobs, Ted Adams, David Ozer, Arvind Ethan David, Zainir Aminullah, Robert C. Cooper, Kim Todd, and Max Landis. Perf. Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Fiona Dourif, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho, Michael Eklund, and Dustin Milligan. BBC America (US network); Netflix (international release). Original broadcast: October 22, 2016 – present.