REVIEWED BY MICHAEL SHONK


DIRK GENTLY. BBC Four/ITV Studios in association with The Welded Tandem Picture Company for BBC Cymru Wales, 2010 and 20123. Created and executive produced by Howard Overman. Cast: Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently, Darren Boyd as Richard MacDuff, Lisa Jackson as Janice, Jason Watkins as DI Gilks, and Helen Baxendale as Susan Harmison. For a more complete list of credits and an in depth look at the series visit the official BBC Four website.

    Douglas Adams’ (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) private detective Dirk Gently first appeared in the comedy fantasy mystery novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. His adventures continued in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988) and in the unfinished Salmon of Doubt (2002).

    “But right now on BBC Four, its murder most random with Dirk Gently,” proclaimed the network’s announcer.

    Dirk Gently believes in “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things,” the quantum mechanics of Physics applied to all life.

    The series takes place in a modern day London. However, there are occasional moments when we realize the action is in an alternate universe, such as when Dirk fails to keep a computer program out of the hands of the Pentagon and America conquers Mexico.

    The mysteries are played fair with clues, some obvious while others not. Everything is connected. When Dirk takes things from anyplace, know it will play a role in the case, unless it is cash from the dead person’s pocket – that will be for pizza.

    The series was less interested in adapting Adams’ books than attempting to capture the spirit of his work and characters. Considering how impossible it would be to film the books, it was a wise choice, if not always successful.

    Stephen Mangan may not fit the image of Dirk from the books but he plays the character convincingly. A self-centered con man with the social skills of Sherlock Holmes, Dirk may or may not believe in his detective skills but is satisfied that things always work out in the end. He drives a broken down car worthy of Harry Orwell’s admiration. He is a deadbeat whose primary joy in life is eating fatty foods.

    Darren Boyd plays the spineless “Watson,” Richard MacDuff. But it is this character where the series goes most wrong. MacDuff appeared in the first book only. Lacking a narrator (though a narrator would have improved the TV series much as it did Pushing Daisies and Dragnet), the series needed a second character to help reveal exposition to the audience. The result was the series became less Dirk Gently and more a funny spoof of Holmes and Watson, as well as police procedurals.

    Helen Baxendale was wasted as Susan Harmison, MacDuff’s girlfriend. The writers really didn’t know what to do with the character except use her as a story device to threaten MacDuff and Dirk’s partnership (while MacDuff considers himself a partner having invested all his money into the agency, Dirk considers him his assistant).

    Lisa Jackson plays the one note character, Dirk’s secretary Janice. Janice sits in the outer office refusing to do any work, such as answer phones or show clients into Dirk’s office, until Dirk pays her wages. While not the most logical, the running gag is funny especially in the final episode.

    Jason Watkins gets the required role of stupid cop DI Gilks, whose role gives Dirk someone to run from.

            THE EPISODES:

Pilot (12/16/2010). Written by Howard Overman. Based on Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. Directed by Damon Thomas. Guest Cast: Doreen Mantle, Anthony Howell, Billy Boyle, and Miles Richardson. *** Dirk is hired by an old woman to find her cat. This leads him to his friend from college Richard MacDuff, who is breaking into his girlfriend Susan’s home to delete an email he regretted sending.

    They look for the cat in a warehouse full of SF looking machines that self-destructs apparently killing a millionaire scientist. The same millionaire who had been “in love” with MacDuff’s girlfriend Susan since their college days, and who Susan had been rejecting for years because of an incident in college. This and more is all connected and leads Dirk to the cat and the answer to two murders.

    Typical Dirk moment: Among his expenses (payable in advance) Dirk charges the old lady for is the cost of a new refrigerator for his office (the one in his apartment had been padlocked by his landlord).

Episode One (3/5/12). Written by Howard Overman. Directed by Tom Shankland. Guest Cast: Cosima Shaw, Paul Ritter, Colin McFarlane and Kenneth Collard. *** MacDuff has joined the detective agency as Dirk’s partner/assistant. The agency has been hired by a paranoid millionaire computer genius convinced the American Pentagon is out to kill him.

    They find him murdered, and uncover his plans to invade Switzerland. From the clues, Dirk realizes the man had invented a computer program that will prove whatever premise you want, to justify the unjustifiable, a computer program the Pentagon would kill to get.

    Typical Dirk Gently moment: Dirk believes in Zen navigation. While many believe when you are lost you should consult a map, Zen navigation advises one to find someone who looks like they know where they are going and follow them. Dirk admits this method rarely gets him where he was going but it often gets him where he is supposed to be.

Episode Two (3/12/12) Written by Matt Jones. Directed by Tom Shankland. Guest Cast: Bill Paterson, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Lydia Wilson and Andrew Leung. *** Dirk’s mentor, Professor Jericho hires the agency to discover who was stealing funds and projects from the computer research department.

    While Professor Ransome struggles on the verge of creating an AI named Max, Jericho is working on a robot version of his lost daughter Elaine. The robot is stolen and Jericho blames Dirk.

    Typical Dirk moment: Dirk falls in love with the woman of his dreams, a woman who shares his obsession for fatty foods.


Episode Three (3/19/12). Written by Jamie Mathieson. Directed by Tom Shankland. Guest Cast: Lisa Dillon, Tony Pitts, Tina Maskell and Jason Stevens. *** Final episode of the series. Someone is killing Dirk’s former clients. He thinks someone is trying to frame him and runs from the police. The police are hoping he will be the next victim and regrettably feel obligated to offer him protection.

    Dirk’s most basic random beliefs are tested when normal police procedural work finds the evidence to arrest the killer. MacDuff quits the agency when he is bothered by how flippant Dirk is over the mysteries when people are dying. But in the end the proper police work proves wrong and the inner connectedness of all things is the key to the solution.

    Typical Dirk moment: One of Dirk’s first cases had him help convict a man for murder. He had been hired to find out who was stealing post-it notes from an office. Dirk framed the man he thought was guilty. However, when the police went to arrest the man for post-it note theft, they discovered the man’s brother murdered body. Later it was learned there was no stolen post-it notes, it had been an error in accounting.

    Dirk Gently has its moments of delightful absurdist humor and the mysteries are fun, but, like in the books, the characters wear thin after awhile. The series is worth watching, but I would rather re-read The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

    The series has been released on Pal format (non-USA) DVD. Currently (and unlikely for long) you can watch the episodes over at YouTube starting with the pilot here: