The degree to which Douglas Adams fans enjoy Dirk Gently, currently making its U.S. debut on DVD via Acorn Video, is likely to be directly related to how well they manage their expectations. The two-disc set includes all four one-hour episodes of the short-lived UK series, which stars Stephen Mangan from Showtime’s Episodes as the title character, a “holistic detective” whose unconventional investigatory style is based, as he explains it, on “an almost unswerving belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” Following that logic, Dirk believes he can approach a case from virtually any starting point, since it inevitably will lead him to the solution for which he is searching – which explains why, in the series pilot, he starts out searching for an old lady’s missing cat and gets entangled in a double murder case.
Adams wrote two Gently novels, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and was working on a third (The Salmon of Doubt) when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2001 at age 49. Since these books, like his earlier best-seller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, deal with such complex ideas and improbable, largely unfilmable plot bedazzlements, screenwriter Howard Overman sensibly opted to lift certain characters and situations from the Gently novels and build a similarly themed series around them.
For the most part, it works. Mangan has a tendency to mug too much, especially when the writing gets a little thin, as it does from time to time in this series, but mostly he makes a genial enough Gently (it helps that Dirk drives most of the people around him insane with his self-absorption, so we’re allowed to find him irritating, too). The smartest bit of casting finds rising British comedy star Darren Boyd (Spy) as Dirk’s hapless assistant/partner Richard MacDuff, the frequent target of the sleuth’s most outlandish demands. Helen Baxendale, who played Ross’s English fiancée Emily in several episodes of Friends, turns up here as Richard’s girlfriend, Susan, while Jason Watkins, the first-season villain in BBC America’s original UK version of Being Human, recurs as Detective Inspector Gilks, who regards Gently with barely concealed contempt.
In sum, Dirk Gently is likely to appeal to Adams fans, as long as they don’t expect all of the author’s incomparable wit, charm and originality to make the transfer to this new medium. You have to go back to the books themselves to fully understand why Adams’ sudden death at such an obscenely early age left his admirers feeling so bereft. But Dirk Gently does an admirable job of capturing the underlying spirit of Adams’ books.
Also, if you want to see more of Darren Boyd – and really, you should – Hulu Plus has the entire two-season run of Spy (which currently is being adapted for American television) available for streaming.