This review contains spoilers.
Following last week’s gloriously nutty robotics love story, the third and final episode of Dirk Gently finds itself back in the real world (albeit one populated by vengeful born-again ex-convicts and Polish assassins who go by misleadingly literal nicknames). A modestly budgeted BBC4 world, then, which largely disallows such excesses as fantasy or science fiction.
The gap having narrowed between my initial expectations of what a programme called Dirk Gently would be and what Howard Overman and chums have made, I find myself enjoying the show much more. By the time this week’s jaunty music and spinning opening credits rolled I was happily expecting another fun, busy caper punctuated with gags and machine-gun monologues from the world’s only holistic detective, which is exactly what we were given.
Interconnectedness almost proved Dirk’s undoing this week, as his former clients were being picked off by an assassin and he was all that connected the victims. This plotline saw the return of D.I Gilks (Jason Watkins), an inversion of the police type who grudgingly acknowledges the amateur detective’s genius. Gilks doesn’t begrudgingly acknowledge Dirk’s genius so much as fail to acknowledge it altogether and wish the amateur detective would make one of his habitual disappearing acts a permanent arrangement.
Things got off to an energetic start in episode three, with a rooftop pursuit and high-speed escape (or as high speed as Dirk’s Austin Princess could manage). A case dropped into the agency’s lap which proved remarkably easy to solve as it turned out Dirk was in fact the strange man who’d been stalking the pretty, wealthy female client.
In pursuit of love, or more realistically, in pursuit of a gullible and fiscally irresponsible woman, Dirk engaged in a brief courtship with client Melina Fulstone (Lisa Dillon), and one that left him in police custody for the second time in this short series.
Suspecting a former foe was behind the assassinations of his ex-clients, Dirk began his scattershot investigations and coincidentally, engaged the services of a new cleaner. Of course, there being no such thing as coincidence in a fundamentally interconnected world, it turned out Dirk’s new cleaner wasn’t just a fastidious cushion-arranger, she was also something of an internationally wanted hit-man (hit person? So difficult keeping up with PC parlance…) who’d been offing his clients thanks to a mix-up to do with Dirk’s irate secretary and an act of phone line sabotage.
There were some lovely jokes this week, the best probably being Mangan’s Kevin Keegan haircut in the flashback, the rug-pull in the tense library scene, Darren Boyd’s line about saving up for a car to go dogging, and Dirk posturing about his adeptness with a puncture repair kit mid stand-off with a convicted killer. There were fun nods for Adams fans too, such as the cheeky Coleridge reference in the Abyssinian Maid brand wine and the pear logo on the back of Macduff’s laptop (has that been there all along?).
Stephen Mangan, it must be said, is very, very good in the lead role. Born with a face for comedy (better than for radio I suppose), his timing, delivery and expression is what makes the show wheel along on its odd little rails. He’s never not fun to watch, and importantly, underneath Dirk’s naked manipulation and torrent of self-serving evasion and lies, the character is actually quite a charmer, and that, one feels, is down to Mangan.
It was nice to see Darren Boyd given a decent speech this week, one in which he implored Dirk to have some humanity in the face of recurring client death. The duo’s Watson and Holmes-lite dynamic continued in the episode, with Macduff threatening to walk before being wooed back in time for a potential second series commission.
As TV pairings go, Macduff and Gently’s relationship still has a long way to go before making Dirk Gently essential viewing. Right now, the pair rank somewhere underneath Scooby and Shaggy and above Sooty and Sue in terms of chemistry, so a second season at least would give the writers a chance to ramp that up. Given the excess of Cumberbatch/Freeman slash fiction that’s popped up online, one wonders if adding some sexual tension to the pair’s tiffs might up viewing figures? Just a thought…
Over the course of three episodes and a pilot, Dirk Gently has planed itself into its own groove, just not the one necessarily announced by the title. It’s not particularly sci-fi, and it’s not at all fantasy. It’s a zany detective comedy, the sort of thing that would come as a result of someone having evicted Jonathan Creek from that windmill, rubbed him vigorously with a Jasper Fforde book and fed him an amphetamine sandwich.
In this incarnation, Dirk Gently is gently comedic and gently entertaining (the puns may be obvious but they are apt). Would I urge BBC4 to make another series? Perhaps, gently.
Read our review of the last episode, here.