Dirk Gently
Acorn Media // Unrated // $39.99 // April 2, 2013
Review by Jeremy Biltz | posted March 26, 2013
Highly Recommended
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The Show:
Dirk Gently, as fans of Douglas Adams know, is an unorthodox detective, who looks into the fundamental interconnectedness of all things in order to solve his cases. Dirk Gently is also now a BBC television series, sadly cancelled after the first series, which is more inspired by than adapted from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and less so the sequel The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul.

The first series has the pilot, and three regular episodes. The pilot is loosely based on Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, but it's significantly altered and modernized (the novel came out in 1987). The rest of the episodes have small elements from the novels, but are basically original stories. And while the writers may have diverged, of necessity, from Adams' original plots, they certainly retain his sense of whimsy and wonder, and penchant for the bizarre. Themes such as artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, time travel and paradoxes, secret Pentagon assassinations, Zen navigation and homosexual MMORPG enthusiasts impersonating Chinese scientists are laced like marbling in a Bundt cake throughout.

Everything about Dirk Gently is superbly executed. Steven Mangan and Darren Boyd are decidedly well cast as the eponymous Dirk Gently and his assistant / partner (depending on who you ask) Richard MacDuff. Mangan has both a manic depressive manner, flitting from one mood to the next at random and with great velocity, but also a gift for subtle physical comedy and a dry as bone delivery when called for, and Boyd is a formidable straight man to his near sociopathic partner. Helen Baxendale (who might be familiar from Kidnap and Ransom) as MacDuff's girlfriend Susan, Jason Watkins as Gently nemesis DI Gilks, and Lisa Jackson as the much put upon secretary Janice are also perfectly suited for their roles. The production values are extremely high. Everything looks and feels lived in and real. The stories are tight (with the possible exception of the pilot, in which they were still feeling their way a bit) and each one seems to get funnier and more inventive than the last. The show is near perfect, so of course it isn't being renewed.

Below are short episode descriptions, as provided on the discs:

Pilot Episode
Struggling holistic detective Dirk Gently is hot on the trail of a missing cat when a chance encounter with MacDuff, an old college chum, leads to an even bigger case - the disappearance of billionaire Gordon Way. Dirk recruits the hapless MacDuff as his sidekick to solve the crime.

Episode 1
Mr. Edwards, a paranoid computer programmer, hires Dirk to investigate whether the Pentagon is tracking his every move. Dirk dismissed him as a quack, but when he discover Edwards's revolutionary software prototype, the detective realizes he's stumbled onto something big.

Episode 2
Dirk and MacDuff are hired as security consultants at their old university. While Dirk is preoccupied trying to find out why he was expelled years ago, an immensely valuable robot is stolen. Later, Dirk's old mentor is murdered, forcing the duo to investigate while evading the police.

Episode 3
Dirk's former clients are turning up dead, and a police inspector with a grudge against the detective would like nothing more than to convict him. Dirk and MacDuff race to find the killer before he can strike their newest client - a beautiful woman with a mysterious stalker.

Dirk Gently is not a particularly likable human being. He's narcissistic, slovenly, irresponsible with money, never pays his bills and generally reckless. He's not above stalking a stranger to verify his theories about graphology, or to sabotaging a server room, or impersonating a doctor. But he also has tremendous flair, generally solves the mystery at hand even with his chaotic holistic methods and can calmly deliver lines like, "I find brie to be the least controversial of cheeses." Despite his inherent unlikableness, we find that we do in fact like him in spite of ourselves. Mangan's off the cuff but intense performance is a big reason the show works, but he is enormously aided by the sharp writing, and even at times hints of an underlying sweetness. This is a very, very good example of British television. Go out and buy this, especially Douglas Adams fans. And savor it, as it doesn't look like there'll be any more.


The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and for the most part looks good. There are rich colors and a bright image, but things do look a tad muddy and grainy from time to time.

Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and does quite well. Dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other problem can be heard. English subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.

Sadly, the only extras are trailers for Murdoch Mysteries and Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, which is pretty standard for Acorn releases, but still disappointing.

Final Thoughts:
Because of the way he writes, Douglas Adams can be challenging to adapt for film and television. The producers here succeeded largely by eschewing a literal transcription of his stories, and instead opted for a show that reveled in his essence and spirit, while borrowing only bits and pieces of his plots. They are faithful to his attitude, write cracking good tales, and execute them very well. This is good stuff.

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