Why Dirk Gently should be your go-to small-screen sci-fi for interconnectedness, coincidence, and the rarer, sexier coinky-dinks.
Some people do this really good impression of Grandpa Simpson where they talk about what our relationship to TV used to be like before streaming. I often hear, for instance, that you used to stumble haphazardly onto shows while channel surfing. That in that brief flicker between clicks a show would sometimes grab you by the throat and drag you into a riptide of fandom. I’ve heard literal and figurative old-timers shake their flaky knuckles at Netflix and Hulu, grumbling that spontaneity is dead and we’ve lost this magical experience of happening upon shows and being charmed.
I’ll admit that it’s a rare day when I spy a hot’n fresh Netflix arrival and know nothing anything about it. But I’d argue that the experience of being unexpectedly caught in the thrall of a series has stood the test of streaming. It happened to me with the Floridian thriller-tragedy Bloodline, with Nick Kroll’s animated puberty comedy Big Mouth. And it happened to me with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I clicked because I remembered a co-worker telling me that Elijah Wood shot some weird crime thing in her apartment and I was curious. Indeed, Dirk Gently is one of the weirdest crime things I’ve ever seen. And I loved it.
The original 1987 novel was penned by cult god Douglas Adams who, supplying his own pull-quote, described Dirk Gently as a “thumping good detective-ghost-horror-whodunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” Heck. Yes. Narratively, the 2016 adaptation is loosely based on Adams’ novel but the fundamental connective tissue is there: a detective who’s only sort of psychic; a hapless everyman who didn’t ask for this; and plenty of dabbling in time travel, body-swapping, and the astral plane. If this wafts of Doctor Who you’re barking up the right tree—Adams drew inspiration from the two Doctor Who serials he wrote.
The enjoyably bewildering 2016 adaptation sees bellboy/staunch realist Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) unwillingly thrust into a murder investigation-turned-missing-persons-case by way of a run in with the eccentric Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), a holistic detective who solves crimes not with clues but by trusting in the inherent interconnectedness of all things. What follows is a delightful melange of sci-fi charm and hopeful abandon; an endearingly weird and ambitious piece of absurdism. The endgame of Dirk Gently’s narrative jigsaw only starts to come into focus around episode 5, but the payoff is great for those willing to stick to it (everything, like Dirk says, is interconnected). File under: Chandler’s “I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m excited!”
Ok now listen up. The second season hits the small screen this month (Oct. 14). Whatever crazy well season one was drinking from has yet to dry up because holy fucking shit. Is that a reunion of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine? Yes, it is. Is that light of my life John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral) in a very silly mustache? Yes, it is. Goddamn, BBC America I can only get so excited!
In light of what looks like a supremely bonkers season 2, like a good media missionary I’ve highlighted some of the reasons Dirk Gently won me over the first go round. With any luck, they’ll peak your interest too.
Dirk Gently’s OST was composed by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who in addition to having an incredibly fun name to say out loud is the mastermind behind the fantastically bizarre, creepy as hell, and unnervingly beautiful soundtrack of last year’s The Girl with All the Gifts. de Veer realizes a similar symbiosis with Dirk Gently, whose soundtrack is riddled with a recognizable sci-fi twang; punctuated by the occasional irreverent suite of dog barks; and is, every so often, infused with something surprisingly genuine and heartfelt. Listen to 30 seconds and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the show’s about tonally. Oh, and the non-original music (featuring the likes of Diane Coffee, Wishkicker, and Christine and the Queens) is rad too. The Newton Brothers (of Gerald’s Game, Oculus, and Ouja: Origin of Evil) are scoring season 2.
One of the ways Dirk Gently gets away with being so coy about where it’s going narratively is by having a phenomenally endearing cast. Barnett’s Dirk is effervescent, fantastically expressive, and contagiously optimistic. Wood’s Todd is reluctant and self-loathing but not immovable. And along the way we meet a myriad of supporting characters including Todd’s tenacious sister Amanda (Hannah Marks) who suffers from a rare genetic disease that causes her to suffer vivid and painful hallucinations; Farah Black (Jade Eshete), the panic-prone and determined bodyguard of the victim and his missing daughter; as well as holistic assassin Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif) and her captive/assistant Ken (Mpho Koaho). This is also probably a good time to mention how ridiculously Canadian Dirk Gently’s cast is (special shout out to Yellowknife’s Dustin Milligan). No small wonder, since the show is aggressively shot in Vancouver (the ratio of “we’re in Seattle” to accidental background shots of Canadian flags is 1:1).
The Gross Incompetence
No one, and I mean no one, is very good at what they do in Dirk Gently. When Dirk and Todd conduct a prisoner exchange with season 1 big bad Gordon Rimmer (a desperate and supremely flustered Aaron Douglas) no one has the upper hand (you don’t KNOW her?!). Likewise, the show’s various flavors of law enforcement all scramble fruitlessly for a foothold in a case featuring multiple timelines, a secret CIA program, and a kitten that is also a hammerhead shark. Hero, villain, whatever: everyone in Dirk Gently is flying by the seat of their pants and it’s glorious. A big part of the fun of Dirk Gently is that it’s populated by goofballs that are just as confused, imperfect, and poorly-equipped to deal with life as the rest of us. “I always end up exactly where I need to be,” grins Dirk. “Despite the fact that it’s rarely where I intended to go.”
For a supremely silly show, Dirk Gently has its moments of genuine sincerity. In one scene, Dirk calls Todd out on how he’s made a home for himself in his self-loathing that’s not cute, humble, or productive; that his “woe is me I’m an asshole with no friends” shtick comes across as a bit cheap. We’ve all had a friend who’s a self-described jerk and doesn’t put the work into being a better person. Hell some of us have been that friend. Dirk Gently also carves out a space to touch on chronic illness, grief, and the relief of finding people as weird and broken as you. It’s a strange, imperfect, and extremely endearing show about how to find meaning and joy in an indifferent, hilariously chaotic universe—and it has a corgi.
Season 2 premieres Saturday, Oct. 14, at 9 p.m. ET, on BBC America.