Review: Dirk Gently

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Dirk Gently is the TV adaptation to Douglas Adams Dirk Gently book series, which included Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul. After Adams’ death, his unfinished draft of the third book was published in a collection called The Salmon of Doubt.dirk2

 

You’ll be happy to know that the 4-episode series is available on DVD in US format (region 1, NTSC), as well as in the region 2/PAL format. You can get it on Amazon Instant. You can also watch it on Acorn.tv.

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First, let me explain how important this book is to me. When I first read it in ninth grade, I was so inspired by it, so inspired to write comedy, that I felt I needed to see what Douglas Adams saw in order to write like him. He was writing in Islington. His characters in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency worked in Islington. Therefore, I had to go and live in Islington for a while. And I did. I walked along the canal where Richard MacDuff jumped into the water, having been hypnotized earlier by Dirk Gently to do so. Wait, but Richard and Dirk are fictional characters, right? They weren’t actually standing where I stand now, but they did in the mind of Douglas Adams. I stood in a place that did exist in the mind of my favorite author writing my favorite book. Sounds crazy, right? All of that said, you might understand why I was apprehensive when I saw that they’d created a television series based on Dirk Gently.

Stephen Mangan as Dirk (left) and Darren Boyd as Richard (right)

Dirk Gently stars Stephen Mangan as Dirk, a holistic private detective. He believes in the interconnectedness of the universe and therefore everything in life is always a clue to whatever case he’s working on. He is generally hated by everyone, including his secretary and the police, as he is always trying to make a buck and seems to be for the most part full of crap. And yet, cases always have their way of revealing themselves to him through the randomness of the universe.

I saw the pilot episode, which predates episode 1 by two years, when it first came out. Despite that Stephen Mangan looks nothing like the way Douglas Adams describes, that they changed the plot, and that they changed the characters, the episode is surprisingly in the same spirit as the book. They took the basic concepts and messages Douglas Adams was trying to convey and retold them in a medium better suited for television and today’s modern audience. Between good writing, good acting, and marvelous attention to detail, they actually pulled off something that was not only just a good ride, but something that was true to the original, which is more than you can say for Disney’s attempt at blockbustering Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, I knew that they released the pilot not knowing if they would be allowed to make more episodes, and often times when this happens, the following episodes aren’t as good because they stop trying so hard.

Today, the complete first series of Dirk Gently arrived in the mail for me. I watched the first episode straight away with some, again, apprehension. It begins with Dirk and Richard (who Dirk has made his assistant) suspecting that the bomb squad have mailed them a bomb. The bomb squad doesn’t like Dirk either, apparently. Right off the bat, the dialogue is quintessentially Adamsy, and is followed shortly by one of Adams’ most famous quotations (which oddly doesn’t usually get attributed to Dirk, but it is from the book): “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though the plot doesn’t in the least bit resemble anything from any of the Dirk Gently novels (there were 2 and a half), the show maintains that same spirit. Dirk is reckless and petty, but you like him. He uses “zen navigation,” which is when you become un-lost by simply following someone who seems to know where they are going. Interconnectedness is right at the forefront of the plot. The writers did not create the cop show they wanted to write and give it Dirk’s name because it would get attention. No. They are making Douglas Adams’ vision. It even takes place in Islington.

The first and last episode didn’t have as strong a paranormal element as the book or the pilot (the book included aliens, robots, and time travel, while the pilot just included time travel), but there was for a moment something seemingly supernatural when horoscopes started coming true. The second episode does include artificial intelligence and a robot, which is appropriately scifi. The funny thing about the show is that Dirk solves the case and no one seems that astounded when the answers are things like “It was time travel” or “It was a human-looking robot.” Sadly, the use of a human-looking robot was not used as Adams’ intended: a jab at the religions and superstitions of mankind.

One great nod to readers of the books: Dirk meets the man who writes the horoscopes for the papers. It’s actually a large part of the plot. As Dirk walks out, the man tells him, “Has anyone ever told you you’re a prick?” The funny thing about this is that in the book series, Dirk checks his horoscope everyday because the man who writes them hates him and knows his star sign. It always says something like “You look ridiculous in your silly red hat” (the Dirk of the novels wears a red, floppy detective hat). So the television series shows us how Dirk made enemies with the horoscope writer in the first place!

I’ll leave you with one of the last lines of the episode: “I believe we’re having the sort of day that would make even Mother Teresa kick babies.”

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