Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a 2016 series based (extremely) loosely on the Douglas Adams novels that feature the title character. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the name is the only link to the source material, as, aside from vague references to a couple of plot points from the books, this is an original story, set in a completely different timeline. There are themes that carry over, however, and the overall concept means that this new take on the mythology could fit well within the universe that was created in the books over two decades ago.
The series starts off on a bit of a disjointed note – the root of each strand of the plot is introduced in the pilot episode, and it’s quite a lot to take in, given the outlandish nature of the situation that unfolds. While Dirk (Samuel Barnett) and his reluctant assistant, Todd (Elijah Wood) are the closest things we have to main characters, the supporting cast get a fairly equal amount of screen time, so some of their intentions are a little more ambiguous than others.
I guess this kind of opening would work for some people, and not so much for others. Personally, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – let’s just say despite the charm, I felt that it was a bit muddled, and I wasn’t in a rush to watch the next episode immediately.
The initial intrigue played on my mind though, and while there is a lot going on, there is, in a broad sense, an ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ plot running through the series, and when they all interconnect, it gives a brilliant sense of payoff to the set up that precedes it. One tip before watching this – if you’re anything like me when it comes to mysteries, you’ll probably try to anticipate what’s going to happen next based on visual clues and deductions, but in this case, don’t bother. The twists and turns that the series took completely blindsided me at times, and in the end I decided to just enjoy the ride and stop playing the guessing game.
This may sound like the plot is unnecessarily complicated, but when things do seem overly convoluted, the absurdity of the situation is often lampshaded by the characters. This runs the risk of being clumsy, but the humour and pacing means that characters often say what the audience is thinking, which comes off as more self-aware, rather than awkwardly smug. A big part of the story focuses around time travel, which can be tricky, as there are massive opportunities for flaws in the logic behind how it all works. However, this is handwaved to an extent, and the audience are expected to just take it for what it is.
One element that instantly hooked me was the quirky, surreal soundtrack, as composed by Cristobal Tapia De Veer. This guy composed the score for the criminally overlooked Utopia, and in my eyes, he can do no wrong. He has a distinct sound, characterised by the unique blend of digitally manipulated samples of live instruments and vocals, with glitchy, synthesised madness. This adds an atmosphere that can drift between bouncy and lighthearted, to oppressive and menacing, but it gives a wonky, off kilter quality to every scene, and really brings everything to life.
Dirk Gently is not only aurally similar to Utopia, but also visually; while the latter is like a pitch black counterpart in terms of content, the two shows share a bold and vibrant colour palette, and often take advantage of long shots that allow the viewer to take in just how gorgeous it all looks. This, combined with the larger than life characters, gives everything a real comic book aesthetic. Speaking of the characters, while there are definitely ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, it’s slowly revealed that there is a reason behind what they are doing, and they believe that they are doing the right thing, albeit through some morally questionable means.
One problem I did have, again, mainly in the pilot episode, was that Gently really grated on me. While this is intentional, he reminded me of an annoying teenager who acted like a goofball to get attention, and I found myself wondering if I was going to be able to tolerate him as the series went on. Fortunately, as the plot progresses, his quirkiness is downplayed somewhat, and his emotional range extends beyond that of a manchild in the middle of a sugar rush, which actually makes for some unexpectedly touching moments.
If I had written this review just after watching the season finale, I think my opinion would have been far more positive, but because I decided to re-watch the pilot episode, I am a little bit more mixed on how I feel about the series as a whole. I have spoken to a few people about this, some of whom loved it from the start, and others found it was a bit too out there, so perhaps it’s a matter of how grounded you like your mysteries.
Dirk Gently has already got the green light for a second season, and personally, I would say watch it with an open mind, and if you aren’t completely sold on the pilot episode, give the second one a try. If it doesn’t grab you after that, then it probably wouldn’t be your cup of tea. However, if it does reel you in, then you’re in for a treat.
(Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, season 1, is currently available on Netflix)