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Photo © Bettina Strauss/BBC America (Used with permission)

Review: Douglas Adams adaptation ‘Dirk Gently’ gets off to a rocky start

Here's what to expect from the new show on BBC America.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 22, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 6:03 pm CDT

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

“Everything is connected,” the titular detective in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, tells his reluctant assistant too many times to count. While the pieces slowly come together in BBC America’s newest series, much of it is a garbled mess.

Dirk Gently, which is a loose adaption of the Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker’s Guide fame) series, comes at a time when fans are not only glued to their TVs every week, but also their computers and smartphones. They’re joining the online conversation, developing theories, and getting to the root of what will happen next. Some, like the fandoms for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, have source material to delve from while others like Mr. Robot place everyone on the same playing level as they search for clues.

© Bettina Strauss/BBC America (Used with permission)

What makes those shows work (some more than others) is the balance between mythology and character building. Dirk Gently, on the other hand, might as well hit you on the head with what’s coming next before you even have the chance to posit.

In the show’s first three episodes we’re introduced to mysteries, conspiracies, and a little bit of science fiction. Dirk (Samuel Barnett), a detective with holistic (psychic) abilities who believes in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” shows up after the police a discover a connection between a murder and a missing person’s case. Soon after he recruits Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood), his jobless, downtrodden would-be assistant to help. Their meeting is rather unorthodox, but Barnett and Wood are strong performers, even though they’re sometimes not given much to work with.

From there, the connections grow to include Todd’s sister Amanda (Hannah Marks), who has a rare disease where her hallucinations feel all too real; Farah Black (Jade Eshete), a bodyguard whose clients died and disappeared under her watch; Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif), a deranged and seemingly indestructible assassin with similar holistic abilities to Dirk; and Ken (Mpho Koaho), a hacker who’s dragged into a manhunt.

Writer and executive producer Max Landis compared the show’s ensemble to Game of Thrones (in terms of structure and the various plotlines it juggles). Most of the characters were his creation—Dirk himself is the only one so far from Adams’ novels.

© Bettina Strauss/BBC America (Used with permission)

“Dirk, in the books, as presented, he’s wonderful and funny but he’s not a complex character,” he told reporters at New York Comic Con. “I believe the amount of pathos in both books is relatively small. When you’re doing a Douglas Adams one-man show, like when you’re reading the books, is wonderful because there’s no bullshit to distract you from Douglas Adams making you laugh. When you’re watching on TV, it needs a little more heart.”

Those relationships are tried and tested, but the characters themselves aren’t given the time to develop as the show tries to juggle more characters than it can handle. At times, the show drags on with subplots that likely won’t connect to the rest of the story until later in the season. Some of the minor characters are one-dimensional to the point of ridiculousness, and Dirk and Todd’s arguments about their own relationship (as detective and assistant) get repetitive after awhile. Dirk himself, who’s not that great of a detective, can sometimes be grating.

© Bettina Strauss/BBC America (Used with permission)

It is clear that the initial cases that bring these people together aren’t mysteries that can drive the series. There’s promise in Dirk Gently’s third episode, which starts to introduce the larger presence and conspiracy at work, but it takes a lot of patience from the audience to get there. In the end, we’ll have to wait and see if all those connections branch into something worthwhile.

Dirk Gently premieres today at 9pm ET on BBC America.

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*First Published: Oct 22, 2016, 8:00 am CDT