Acorn Media // 2012 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // March 20th, 2013
"Things are becoming nicely out of control." -- Dirk Gently
That's not what you want to hear from a detective, is it? Getting things under control is what detectives do, at least in fiction. However, Dirk Gently is a holistic detective. Huh? As a former mentor puts it: "You, Dirk, have taken the interconnectedness of all things and applied them to the social world. Your Holistic Detective Agency is a breakthrough in applied quantum mechanics."
Dirk Gently may look like other TV mysteries, with Dirk arriving at murder scenes, frantically scribbling case notes on his erasable board, following suspects, and coming up with a neat, tidy solution by episode's end. However, don't expect Dirk Gently to make a lick of sense. It's a whodunit that's inspired by Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Shades of "Shada," the unaired Doctor Who script that Adams reworked into his tale have been removed, but it aims for the late comic author's absurd style.
Dirk Gently features four episodes on one disc.
* Pilot -- Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan, Green Wing) decides that an exploding warehouse and the disappearance of a billionaire are linked to his search for a missing cat. Along the way, he talks former Cambridge classmate Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd, Green Wing) into joining his agency.
* Episode 1 -- The Pentagon's keeping an eye on Dirk, hoping he'll lead them to a software program that "justifies the unjustifiable." Dirk also tries to find out why an astrologer's forecasts have gotten extremely precise for a client.
* Episode 2 -- Dirk finds romance while investigating the disappearance of an artificial being and the murder of a professor. MacDuff may part ways with Dirk if his girlfriend Susan (Helen Baxendale, Friends) gets a Cambridge position.
* Episode 3 -- Detective Inspector Gilks (Jason Watkins, UK's Being Human) is looking for Dirk -- to warn him that two of his clients have been murdered and he may be the next target. Meanwhile, Dirk has a run-in with an apartment cleaner.
Is Dirk Gently set in the comic but relatively real world, like Psych, or in the absolutely strange world of shows like The X-Files? Actually, Dirk Gently isn't quite sure. Two of his case solutions involve decidedly science fictional elements like time travel, while the other two have absurd but not technically impossible storylines. The only other show that I can recall offhand that played this fast and loose with the rules of detection is The Avengers (yes, I noticed something else besides Mrs. Peel when I was watching).
Dirk Gently's holistic methods involve relying on wild coincidence. One of Dirk's many mistakes was to frame a theft suspect, only to find the man was actually a murderer. True, you can always expect a detective to turn up at a crime scene just before the crime takes place, but Dirk takes it to a new level. In some cases, he's responsible in some way for the interconnected events that lead to murder in the first place.
Although he gets credit from Susan, partner Richard MacDuff's girlfriend, for a tender act in one episode, they're rare for Dirk. He's squabbling with an unhelpful receptionist who never gets paid, because Dirk's sure she'd then she'd stop showing up to not let people in. He broaches the proposition of a business partnership with MacDuff while hypnotizing his old university chum. When he sees police, Dirk flees, even when he's done nothing wrong. There's a secret passage in his office, too, just in case. He's even offended egotistically when Detective Inspector Gilks considers him incapable of plotting a series of murders. Stephen Mangan plays it with a mix of childlike innocence and insanity.
There are some clever moments in Dirk Gently; just watch how his tangle with the Pentagon ends. However, the show is often just frantic and moody. Lights always seem to blink out at dramatic moments, and it can feel like Dirk and MacDuff are just running around pointlessly.
The picture quality is good, with much of the frantic action taking place against modern London and Cambridge exteriors. There are no extras.
For some reason, plots that don't make sense, wavering between the overly coincidental and the science fictional don't bother me much. However, whodunit fans might find their heads exploding as they witness Dirk Gently's bizarre denouements. At one point, Susan, Richard MacDuff's girlfriend, actually is certain Gently completely made up his fanciful-sounding solution to a mystery.
The other problem that viewers might have with Dirk Gently is Gently himself. While British TV has a long history of mischievous, roguish heroes, Gently often comes across as just obnoxious, which is funny but doesn't build the legs for a long run. As is often the case with such an antihero, other characters get angry but don't desert him. If there'd been more than four episodes of Dirk Gently (Acorn doesn't bill this as "Series 1"), Dirk could have turned into a memorable character like Doctor Who (a character who Douglas Adams helped shape as story editor), shady antiques dealer Lovejoy, or bookseller Bernard Black. Starting out so far over the top didn't help, though. It's especially a liability when other characters aren't fleshed out as Dirk's foils.
Dirk Gently is funny and absurd, as you'd expect from a Douglas Adams creation. I personally loved the nonsensical plotting. However, even as a diehard Adams fan, I was disappointed by the shallow characterizations. Thus, Dirk Gently's short life had promise, even if it ultimately ended up nicely out of control. Adams fans will want a look, but Dirk Gently falls short of the classic antihero that British TV fans would hope for.
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated