In a year of some mind-bogglingly good television series, few find a way to bring a common trope into new territory. In simplest terms, Dirk Gently is a detective show, as the name might imply. But anyone familiar with the source material would know that this is no ordinary detective. Based on the series of novels by the incredible Douglas Adams, the series brings the titular Dirk Gently to Seattle to solve the mysterious death of a wealthy industrialist named Patrick Spring, and with the case comes one of the most interesting and absolutely ridiculous shows on television.
For those unfamiliar with Dirk and his ways, there’s one thing that should be made perfectly clear: Dirk is not so much a detective as he is a mentally unstable person who tries (and mostly fails) to help people. He believes in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” an unusual way of saying that if you go with your gut, it’ll all work out how it’s supposed to. All actions, and the responses of those actions, even if it doesn’t seem like it, are all connected and will eventually reveal themselves to be part of the whole. It’s all basically nonsense, until it isn’t. This is used to near perfection in the show where far too many plot lines are introduced, only to all come together in the end as the eight-episode first season runs its course.
The show, adapted for the screen by acclaimed screenwriter Max Landis, shows what happens when you give an eccentric and brilliant mind the ability to work from equally eccentric source material. It has the look, feel, and promise of those old Dirk Gently novels, with several allusions to the older titles, making it must-watch television for any fan of Adams.
The cast is fantastic, as well, with Samuel Barnett taking on the very challenging role of Dirk. And while he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of Adams’ description of the character, he’s still basically perfect. Barnett is wacky, spontaneous, and frequently hilarious, bringing an unrelenting positivity to a show that is basically about murder and some strange, mystical events that spawn from it. Barnett is accompanied by Elijah Wood, in sidekick Todd. Todd serves as the way in for the audience, a relatively normal character surrounded by mentally ill detectives, energy vampires, mystical body switchers, and hapless government agents. Along with Todd, Dirk keeps the company of a supporting cast that, without context, would sound like a string of ridiculous adjectives and not the characters in a detective show.
A lot of time needs to be devoted to the cast, for two reasons: The first is that this show has a big cast, and the second is that every single one of them is fascinating on their own, with characters like Fiona Dourif’s Bart, an assassin who serves not only as her own person, but as Dirk’s other side of the coin. Bart operates on the same frequency as Dirk, believing in the same interconnectedness, but applying it to who she should kill. There are simply too many cast members to go over in one piece, but they are all really amazing actors and actresses that deserve a lot of praise for their roles here. Despite that, there is one group in the show that truly made this show special: The Rowdy Three, a group of four characters loosely described as “energy vampires” played by Micheal Eklund, Osric Chau, Viv Leacock, and Zak Santiago. This group steals every scene they’re in and are endlessly entertaining.
The plot of the season, on the other hand, is simultaneously engaging and, at times, utterly confusing. This is kind of the point of a Dirk project, but, at first, it can be very tough to get into. With nearly a dozen plot lines in the season, Dirk and Todd must navigate through an endless stream of people and events as complicated as they are integral to the whole.
Dirk’s mission is to solve the murder of Patrick Spring, a genius inventor. This is further complicated by the disappearance of his daughter, Lydia, who has been kidnapped by a group called the Men of the Machine, a cult who derives their power through a mysterious machine that allows them to switch their souls into other bodies. Make sense? It shouldn’t. And it’s not supposed to, at least not for several episodes. It’s a tangled web of mystery that needs every single piece to come together to truly make sense. But when it does, it’s glorious.
Fans of Adams should be able to recognize the intricacy immediately, but for those unfamiliar, it could be a bit tough to get through at first. The pilot makes for a very challenging way in, but for those able to give it a chance, it gets much, much stronger as it goes on. There is so much on this show, but it proves that adapting source material isn’t always as bad as the track record might indicate, and when it works, it really works. Because of the deep faith of the show to its source material and because of how passionate I am about the work of Douglas Adams, this show strikes me as the single most important show of this year.
Available through BBC America’s services, as well as for purchase on Amazon, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a deep and thorough romp through the world of a very inspiring author, and one that makes good on every piece of his legacy.