New last week, tucked away on BBC4, was Dirk Gently, an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ “other” series of novels, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”. I admit, I’ve never read the source material, so if you want a careful dissection of where the new TV version differs, you may be disappointed by this review.
However, I was excited by this broadcast despite my lack of expertise, because it is written by Howard Overman. This man is behind the excellent Misfits, the hilarious Vexed and many of the better episodes of Merlin, so he’s picking up a pedigree. Was Dirk Gently another winner?
Gently And MacDuff
When I first reviewed Sherlock, back in summer, I commented on how many shows were currently using the “Holmes formula” of socially useless genius and exasperated sidekick. Superficially, at least, Dirk Gently seems to be another of this type, with scatty “holistic” detective Dirk Gently reconnecting with schoolfriend MacDuff just in time for them both to get embroiled in a case.
But there’s nothing wrong with broad similarity as long as the newcomer has something new to add. I rather enjoyed Stephen Mangan’s duplicitous, self-serving Gently and the uncertainty this produces for other characters and the audience.
The final act revelations were equally unpredictable, and I imagine a lot of viewers would be annoyed by this. The totally incongruous entrance of some science-fiction was a bit distracting, but I enjoy that kind of sudden gear-shift. I like to think Mr Adams might have approved in some small way too.
For now, this one episode is all we’re getting, as it is a mere pilot. It’s been implied in places, such as this BBC blog post by Stephen Mangan, that they would be interested in going further, and I hope that commission comes up, as it was a lot of fun.
I don’t get the feeling it particularly resembled the books, which seem more wilfully surreal and obtuse, whereas this is a fairly straight comedy detective show, the main selling points being the eccentric lead character and the strange plot twist. But as a non-fan, this doesn’t needle me as much as it may others.
This may not be Overman’s greatest work, since it’ll take a lot to shake Misfits from that perch. But this is another string to his bow, and a perfectly watchable hour of TV. Check it out in BBC iPlayer, and let me know below whether you’d want to see more.