Back in 1978, Douglas Adams launched a new phenomenon with the publication of the first volume of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then came the comics, radio series, television show, and finally the 2005 movie.
Then in 1987 Adams published Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and its 1988 follow-up, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul based on unused Doctor Who scripts. Once again, Adams’ characters were adapted for radio, the stage, and for British television in 2010 under the supervision of Howard Overman for BBC Four.
In all his incarnations, Dirk Gently claims to be a “holistic detective” who makes use of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” This includes running up huge expense accounts including all manner of trips and perks unrelated to his client’s particular case. As none of them ever seem to pay him, Gently is pretty much insolvent and looks like it most of the time.
Back in 2010, Overman rightly surmised a literal adaptation of the Adams books wouldn’t be workable, in large measure because much of the books’ flavor and uniqueness rely on the novelists distinctive writing style. So Overman took out many of the plot points and trimmed off much of the sci-fi trappings that would have been rather expensive to film. Instead, the four adventures—the 2010 pilot and three episodes broadcast in 2012—rely on the acting of Stephen Mangan as Gently, Darren Boyd as beleaguered sidekick Richard MacDuff, and supporting characters like Susan Harmison (Helen Baxendale), MacDuff’s girlfriend, and Janice Pearce (Lisa Jackson), Gently’s receptionist who hasn’t been paid in years.
Now, thanks to Acorn Media, the four one-hour-long adventures are finally crossing the Atlantic, and Americans can finally decide if Dirk Gently’s TV presence is our cup of tea. For many viewers, anticipation may determine their enjoyment. Forget the books and forget the snappy dialogue of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, although there’s moments of that along the way. The televised Dirk Gently is only occasionally laugh out loud funny—mostly, it’s odd, quirky, and surreal. We Yanks have our own share of quirky oddball detectives on television, so Dirk Gently is perhaps best appreciated as a satire of the genre.
After all, the second hour, for example, is all about a client who fears the Pentagon is trying to kill him and another client whose horoscopes appear to be coming true. Unrelated cases? Never, not in Dirk Gently’s universe. The humor is usually seen in his unorthodox methods, as in determining his next route by following someone else who looks like they know where they’re going. If your cat is missing, perhaps she went back in time and returned as the stray who reminded you of your lost pet. In Gently’s world, there’s no such thing as a coincidence, there’s no such thing as chance.
In the U.S., there’s an audience for such fare, but I doubt Dirk Gently will stir up the devoted following of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You don’t have to have read the books, in fact you are probably better off if you haven’t, to fall into the alternate reality of Dirk Gently’s convoluted and surprising success as a detective. Still, as BBC Four announced in 2012 these stories are it and there won’t be no more, if you like these dramodies, check out the books. In fact, whether or not you see these DVDs, check out the books. That’s where the genius of Douglas Adams is on full display.