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Dirk Gently (2010-2012)

Acorn Media
DVD Released: 4/2/2013

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/15/2013

At first glance, British television shows aren't all that different from American television shows. The histories parallel in many ways and they offer many of the same genres (although I don't think westerns ever caught on there). Some American shows, such as Friends, are popular in Britain, and U.S. networks have attempted many English shows for American TV. However, there are distinct differences. In the U.S., we call a grouping of episodes which air within a specific time period a "season", whereas in England, this is known as a "series", which can be very confusing, as American refer to a specific show as a "series". Most "seasons" in America offers anywhere from 13-26 episodes of a show, while in England, seasons can be much, much shorter. And few are as short as Dirk Gently.

Dirk Gently is based on novels by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams. The titular character is an odd man who has labeled himself as a "holistic detective". Dirk believes that everything in the universe is connected in some way and that if he follows any tangent, he will eventually solve a case. He works out of a shabby office and never pays his receptionist, Janice (Lisa Jackson).

The 2-Disc set contains four episodes of the show.

Dirk is asked to find the missing cat of Mrs. Jordan (Doreen Mantle). As he leaves her flat, he notices an old friend from college, Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd) robbing the apartment next door. Dirk approaches MacDuff and learns that it's his girlfriend's apartment and he's simply trying to find her laptop in order to delete and embarrassing e-mail. The two decide to check out a nearby warehouse which promptly explodes. Dirk decides that the warehouse, the missing cat, and Richard's girlfriend are all somehow related and he soon learns that a specific date in 1994 holds the key. As the episode ends, MacDuff agrees to be Dirk's partner.

A very paranoid man who had hired Dirk to help with his conspiracy theories is found dead. After doing some investigating, Dirk decides that the man had created a computer program which couldn't threaten the balance of power in the world, and thus, he may not have been paranoid after all. Meanwhile, Emma Reynolds (Cosima Shaw) retains Dirk's services as she believes her husband is having an affair. While Dirk is reluctant to take this "boring" job, he soon believes that the two cases are linked and if he and MacDuff can avoid being killed, he'll prove it.

Dirk is asked to return to his alma mater to provide security for his old mentor, Professor Jericho (Bill Paterson). Dirk eagerly accepts the job despite the fact that he was expelled from the college. Jericho has been working on an artificial intelligence program and has also created a very realistic robot. Following an incident where Jericho's assistant, Emelda Ransome (Sylvestra Le Touzel), claims that the computer had spoken to her, Jericho is found dead. As Dirk mourns over his old friend, he stumbles upon the truth of his expulsion and learns that Jericho had a dark side, but was also a true genius.

When two of Dirk's clients are found dead, the police want him for questioning. He eludes capture and instead takes a job helping Melinda Fulstone (Lisa Dillon) who thinks that someone is stalking her. That someone is actually Dirk, as, unbeknownst to her, he's made her part of a bizarre handwriting sample experiment. This is interrupted when Dirk learns that a man who he helped send to prison is now out on the streets and most likely looking for revenge.

We often hear of books which are unfilmable. This is usually due to the scope of the story. However, with the advancement in CG visual effects, more and more epic fantasy and science-fiction novels which were once viewed as unable to make the leap to the big screen are being adapted. We also encounter books whose stories are so internal or metaphorical, that it would be a challenge to create a coherent from them. The two Dirk Gently novels, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul, don't necessarily present themselves as unfilmable, but after watching the TV show, I realize the challenge involved.

First of all, the subject matter can be very deep. While this is basically a comedy (more on that in a moment), as with Adams' Hitchhiker books, the Dirk Gently novels don't shy away from semi-serious scientific topics. (Adams was clearly some sort of genius.) There is a great deal of discussion of quantum mechanics and the interconnectedness of the universe here. Secondly, Dirk is not a likable character. While his portly physical appearance and odd clothing have been changed for this adaptation, he's still an egomaniac who is only interested in making money and doesn't care about the feelings of others. Imagine is Sheldon Cooper was a cheap-skate and you'll get an idea of what Dirk is like.

However, the most important matter is that of humor. I didn't realize that a book could be laugh-out-loud funny until I begin reading Adams' work, and some passages literally had me in tears. He was a master of starting a sentence in a fairly normal place and landing somewhere bizarre and hysterical. Apparently it was difficult to get a lot of this humor to the screen. There are some funny moments in Dirk Gently, but it didn't come close to being as funny as the books. Some funny lines are definitely lifted from the novels, but much of Adams' humor came from his descriptions of things, which can't really come through in a show. Also, the makers of Dirk Gently veer away from the novels too much. While the pilot follows the basic plot of the first novel, it leaves out the part where Dirk's nose gets broken and no one can understand what he's saying. To the best of my knowledge, the other three episodes pick and choose things from the novels, but their premises are original. Vacating Adams' work, especially the fantastic nature of the second novel, was a mistake.

So, if you've read the novels, you will most likely be disappointed by Dirk Gently. Stephen Mangan, who is so good in Episodes, is certainly game as Dirk and does a good job of making an unlikable person a likable character. The show has some funny moments and the pacing is good, but it simply fails to capture the essence of the books. To us in the U.S., the oddest thing about this show is that there are only four episodes. Will there be more?

Dirk Gently can't show itself in when it's already in on DVD courtesy of Acorn Media. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Many British shows don't look like big-budget affairs and Dirk Gently is one of them. Given that, the colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. However, the image is a bit soft at times and it is decidedly flat. The DVD carries a Dolby Stereo audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is not an overly dynamic track, but the actors are always audible and intelligible and the music doesn't overpoer the dialogue. The most noticeable stereo effects occur when things move across the screen.

The Dirk Gently DVD set contains no extra features.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.