Reviewing a television show is a considerable departure for Scide Splitters, but it is not every day that a humorous genre classic becomes the basis for a major television series. If you read Scide Splitters with any regularity, then you already know that I am a big fan of the work of Douglas Adams. As a matter of fact, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is not only my favorite novel by Adams, it is one of my favorite novels – period.
What you don’t know, however, is that I am extremely difficult to please when it comes to TV shows. I don’t watch many, at least not for long. The last time I watched a series with unswerving consistency was Futurama, which was cancelled three years ago. I also find most print to screen adaptations to be abysmal. So, when I heard that Dirk Gently was coming to the small screen, I fully expected it to be awful. And the ads that ran during the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Marathon on BBC America did nothing to change that expectation. That is why I am pleasantly surprised to find myself recommending the show to my readers.
The show, which debuted October 22nd on BBC America, is not a direct adaptation of any of the Dirk Gently novels (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and the unfinished The Salmon of Doubt). Instead, it attempts to capture the essence of Dirk Gently with an entirely new story and cast of characters (except for Dirk himself). This was probably a wise decision on the part of Max Landis, creator and writer of the series.
Dirk Gently, in case you are not familiar with the novels, derives his holistic detection methods from quantum theory and the idea that all things are interconnected. Rather than bother with trivial clues like fingerprints and murder weapons, he depends on the interconnectedness of all things to solve the crime. For instance, Dirk will follow someone (anyone) who looks like they know where they are going and depend on them to lead him to where he needs to be. This is, of course, a distortion of the actual meaning of quantum theory in much the same way that new agers abuse the concept. Adams did something similar with the infinite improbability drive in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unfortunately, the TV series does not present any of the scientific background.
This holistic approach to sleuthing brings a randomness to the plot that comes across effectively in the show. The viewer is presented with a series of rapid-fire scenes featuring seemingly unrelated events and characters. It starts with Dirk Gently (played by Samuel Barnett) waking to his cell phone and lying to the caller, telling him that he is already on his way and almost there. Next, we see a gruesome murder scene that includes severed limbs, people bitten in half, large bite marks on the ceiling – and a kitten. Then we meet a hapless bellhop, Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood), whose drug-addled landlord is destroying his car with a hammer because he is behind on the rent.
As episode one progresses, we also meet a psychotic woman (Fiona Dourif) who calls herself a holistic assassin and kills almost everyone she encounters, a hacker named Ken (Mpho Koaho) kidnapped by the assassin, a pair of detectives looking for a the missing daughter of a billionaire, a woman handcuffed to a bed in a cultishly creepy room (Jade Eshete), a number of bald men with matching neck tattoos, a group of soul sucking goons known as the rowdy three who are actually four men (probable homage to when Hitchhikers’ Guide was a trilogy in four parts), a pair of agents from a secretive government agency, Todd’s sister (Hannah Marks) who suffers from a hallucination causing neural disease, and a corgi. And I am probably forgetting a few.
At the center of all the random weirdness is Todd, whose dull existence is plunged into turmoil. Dirk insinuates himself into Todd’s life, insisting that Todd is his assistant, a sort of Watson to his Sherlock, a role he vehemently but unsuccessfully rejects.
If this all seems like too much to wrap up neatly by the end of the first episode, you are correct. The eight episode first season consists of one case. At the end of episode one, you will have no idea how these disparate elements are going to come together. I’ve seen the second episode now (it was even better than the first), and although some connections are starting to form, I am still largely in the dark.
One of the characters I found most interesting through the first two episodes is the holistic assassin. The interplay between her and her hostage is hilarious, even though their scenes are on the gory side. My biggest disappointment so far is a subtle shift in Dirk Gently’s character. In the books, Dirk comes off as something of a self-directed conman, whereas in this series there are suggestions that he is fated or compelled. Despite that change, I am enjoying the series immensely and am willing to let Max Landis present his own version.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency should be appealing to fans of shows like Doctor Who. There is, in fact, a Dirk Gently – Doctor Who connection. Adams’ novel had its genesis as a Doctor Who episode back in the 70s. It was never produced. The rewritten version still has a little of that Doctor feel, as does this television series. The show, however, will not appeal to all viewers. The staccato style of delivery may be off-putting to some, particularly non-genre fans. But, fans who like a healthy dose of weirdness and laughs should find themselves hooked. And if you missed the first two episodes, they are currently available at BBC America’s website.
Shameless self-promotion: If you feel deprived at not getting your monthly recommendation of written humorous science fiction, fear not. One of my short stories, “Time and Not Space,” is in the November issue of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine. It will be available online for free through December. Check it out.