Verdict: 2 / 5
For those who don’t know who Dirk Gently is… Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, written by Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams, was first published in 1987. However, its origins date back quite a bit further… all the way back to Doctor Who. Back in 1980, a Doctor Who TV serial called Shada – also written by Adams – was abandoned half way through and never made it to air. Years later, with some slight re-working to the Shada story (and a few ideas from DW story City of Death), Adams wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
Somewhat far removed from the Timelord, Dirk is a human con artist/detective, gifted with a grab-bag of psychic abilities – which he doesn’t believe in at all, yet is keen to boast about because it helps him to confound people. He’s lazy, portly, annoying, cheap, insulting, has a love of pizza and cats, and wears a rather unflattering hat. Also, the universe constantly conspires against him. His cases range from solving time-travelling magic tricks to preventing hostile takeovers of Asgard by disreputable advertising executives.
But he mostly specialises in finding missing cats.
The first book was, astonishingly, not all that good. The second book entitled The Long Dark Tea Time Of The Soul, however, was magnificent. They were later adapted into a hilarious radio series starring Harry Enfield as Dirk in 2007, and in 2012 it became a short-lived but highly entertaining TV series starring Stephen Mangan. There was also a stage play, a fan made audio series, and Douglas Adams did readings of the first novel as an audiobook. All of them represented Dirk Gently in the best possible light, which means that he ended up looking like a bit of an arse – albeit an amusing one.
That’s Dirk Gently.
Based on the first episode of this new series, this ISN’T.
In a rather disjointed plot set in some unidentifiable North American city, loser hotel bellhop Todd Brotzman gets fired from his job after discovering a bloody crime scene in the hotel’s penthouse suite. It might have been the weirdest part of his day if not for seeing another version of himself on the 18th floor a few minutes before that, and having Dirk Gently appear in his apartment some time afterward.
Meanwhile, a holistic assassin goes on a killing spree with a young man she sort-of kidnaps, two police detectives blunder about raising their eyebrows, a demented crack dealer smashes Todd’s car, two tall bald men armed with a taser-crossbow search for a kitten, a gung-ho black ops sniper and his superior try to protect somebody who is probably Dirk, four guys called the Rowdy 3 go on a rampage and…
Do I really need to go on?
In an absolute misunderstanding of the source material, everything on display misses the point. New “weird” characters are brought in with no explanation every few minutes, only to have them get brushed aside by yet more new “weird” characters, to the point where the viewer can’t appreciate any of them. It tries to be weird just for the sake of weirdness, lacking any of the internal logic Douglas Adams brought to the books. There isn’t a single laugh to be found throughout the entire episode, although presumably they’re attempting some kind of dark comedy vibe – but failing miserably. Since there isn’t a shred of the trademark Adams wit on screen, that’s a pretty poor alternative.
Samuel Barnett does his best in the role of Dirk, and if it were any other project then he’d probably be a good choice. However, he doesn’t embody the character particularly well. The words coming out of his mouth seem right, but everything else seems wrong. In a Woody Allen “…And such small helpings” ironic complaint, he’s also completely overshadowed by all the attention paid to Elijah Wood as Todd… and to just about everyone else too. Whilst the books were never strictly just about Dirk, here he comes across as little more than a peripheral character at best.
If there’s one saving grace to this episode – or at least a positive to this dismal production – it’s that Dean Parisot’s directing showed some moments of style. It may not have conveyed what the series should have been (although that’s largely the fault of the material he’s stuck with), but in general it possessed an artistic flair which captures some attention. Instead, a large portion of the blame really has to go to the feeble, boring script which has been limply written by Max Landis.
It’s understandable that the show may take a few episodes to start explaining the links to all the completely random moments on display here. After all, the Dirk Gently stories were all about piecing together some pretty strange mysteries. But unlike those original stories, there’s no real hook here. There isn’t a single character worth investing time in getting to know, or even a mystery that the viewer can genuinely care about. For all the supposed weirdness on screen, the whole production seems soulless and dull.
Simultaneously alienating the fan base which Dirk Gently already has whilst leaving new viewers confused and bored, it’s a slap in the face to Douglas Adams’s legacy and a show best avoided.