Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016), Season 1

I watched this on the recommendation of a colleague. It consists of eight 45-minute episodes, for a total of six hours, and tells a interestingly convoluted story involving time travel, body-swapping, a hippie cult and the FBI.

I thought it was sort of OK. I suspect I would have liked it rather more if it wasn’t called Dirk Gently, because it has very nearly nothing at all to do with the Douglas Adams books that it is supposedly based on.

Most importantly, the character named Dirk Gently is not Dirk Gently — not even close. Portrayed by Samuel Barnett (on the right in the photo above), he is young, thing, gangly, self-consciously wacky and conspicuously devoid of a hat. But as Adams tells us:

He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in one so young. The hat was dark red and round, with a very flat brim [… and he wore] a large and flappy leather coat,

So he looks completely wrong, and is much too young. Far more importantly, he doesn’t do any holistic detecting. The Dirk of the books is unconventional, but at root a detective. He thinks hard about his cases. He works out what is going on. He’s actively clever, if perhaps not quite so clever as he thinks. Whereas TV Dirk has no idea what’s happening, and his “holistic” approach is just to let things happen to him.

None of this is helped by Barnett’s portrayal, which is a collection of tics and self-conscious eccentricities along the line that we might expect if he’d had Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor described to him, but never actually seen him. It quickly becomes tiresome to watch.

So what we have is a character who is not Dirk Gently, who by the way doesn’t have a detective agency, and who does no detecting. Naming the show Dirk Gently’s Detective Agency makes exactly as much sense as calling the lead character Basil Fawlty and naming it Fawlty Towers.

Here’s a much more accurate drawing of Dirk Gently as Adams described him, by Reymonkey.

And all of this was completely unnecessary because, considered on its own  terms and not in the light of its much weightier source material, DGHDA is a perfectly pleasant time-travelling body-swapping comedy drama. I just wish the makers had had the guys to let it stand on its own feet.

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5 responses to “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016), Season 1

  1. Of course, Stephen Mangan didn’t exactly look like the character Adams described either… I do think that both series have their merits, and both of them do feel like the sort of shows that Adams would have written if he’d written tv shows, even if neither of them are truly Dirk Gently.
    The one thing this one does have in common with the original novels is that it is nicely plotted for a single six-hour story – they do spend time seeding stuff (not just the obvious time-travel bits) that pay-off nicely later, and it does expect the audience to keep up – and there are enough Adams-esque absurdities that I felt happy watching it, and will certainly watch a second series.

  2. I’ve not seen the Steven Mangan DGHDA yet — it’s on my To Do list. But I hope I made it clear that the lack of physical resemblance is the least of my problems with Barnett’s version of the character.

    As for pacing: the story is a good fit for its six hours; but I found it frustrating that so very little is explained in the early episodes. The producers seem to have learned the wrong lesson from Steven Moffat, namely that it’s OK to keep throwing in more unknowns on top of the existing ones. But when Moffat did that, it was in the context of a show where each individual episode (or at least each pair of episodes) reached its own mini-conclusion as well as making whatever contribution it made to the arc.

    I probably will watch the second season, despite my unhappiness with the first, though. I will just more of an effort to ignore the fact that the lead character inexplicably shares an unusual name with the much cleverer protagonist of two much cleverer books.

  3. I’ve only seen the Steven Mangan one. It’s many years since I read the book, but I felt that it captured his unique approach to some extent, though there may not have been as much “thinking hard” as in the book.

  4. I’ve watched three of the four Mangan episodes, and I’ll write about them shortly. Spoiler: I like them a lot more than the new series.

  5. There is *one* single context in which Dirk would just let things happen to him: Zen navigation, in which you navigate by finding someone who looks like they know where they’re going and following them. :)

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