Dirk Gently review

Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently gets a new BBC adaptation starring Stephen Mangan, Darren Boyd and Helen Baxendale. Here’s our review…

Dirk Gently is the world’s first and only holistic detective, a private investigator who believes in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. He’s also, quite possibly, a horrendous charlatan, charging clients extortionate amounts of money for his services, paying ten-year-old computer experts in cheap cigarettes, filling his pockets with the purloined biscuits of sweet old ladies, while many of his ‘deductions’ amount to little more than guesswork.

Initially investigating the disappearance of a missing cat, Gently soon finds himself teaming up with a former university friend, Richard (Darren Boyd), and for reasons far too odd and convoluted to explain, they both find themselves involved in an unexpected warehouse explosion and an apparently dead billionaire, all of which appear to have some sort of arcane, tenuous connection.

If you can imagine a Venn diagram consisting of equal parts Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and Inspector Clouseau, you have a hint of the Dirk Gently’s character in a nutshell.  His style of detection takes in huge leaps of logic, and his examination of networks of random bits of information and their apparent connections is uncannily like a fortune teller reading tea leaves or animal entrails.

Nevertheless, writer Howard Overman has created an hour-long drama that successfully pulls all the seemingly disparate strands together for a surprisingly tidy conclusion.

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The biggest problem with Overman’s adaptation is Gently himself. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read the Douglas Adams books on which the show’s based, but I am familiar enough with the author’s writing style to know that his humour was both subtle and deadpan.

Stephen Mangan, all wild hair, flashing teeth and wide eyes, is a little too overwrought and histrionic to really engage as a central character. His odd vocal ticks and syntax, his sudden outbursts of temper are all, for this writer, rather alienating.

Surely meant as an eccentric, loveable rogue (not unlike Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb take on Sherlock Holmes), Overman’s Gently is, instead, often infuriating and sometimes downright unpleasant. He swindles money out of his friend on several occasions, and elsewhere runs another character over and then drives off, apparently unfazed.

This isn’t to say that Dirk Gently is entirely devoid of laughs. A scene where the detective manages to hustle his way into a psychiatrist’s office by shrieking “Nobody knows who I am!” is one instance where Mangan’s rampant overacting works perfectly, and his eleventh-hour flash of genius, a moment straight out of Columbo, wraps the mystery up excellently.

Helen Baxendale and Darren Boyd are fine in their sidekick roles, and perhaps sensing that Mangan will dominate the show like a Toho monster, turn in comparatively restrained performances.

Perhaps Dirk Gently‘s biggest problem is its similarity to two of the BBC’s biggest ratings successes. By removing so many of Adams’ strange excesses (which was possibly down to budgetary constraints), the premise of this television incarnation is perhaps a little too similar to Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes to fully differentiate itself.

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Given the room to develop as a full series, Dirk Gently‘s characters could grow into more rounded, likeable ones, and this pilot episode may, therefore, provide a jumping off point for more strange adventures to come. Even a cursory glance over the synopsis to Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency will tell you that Overman has barely scratched the surface of even the first book’s rambling, surreal storyline.

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