Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Microreview [TV]: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

It turns out, everything does end up connecting

                     Image result for dirk gently's holistic detective agency 2016

Approaching this review of the first season of BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (adapted from the Douglas Adam novels), it’s hard to know where to begin because it has to have one of the most complicated story lines of all time. But first things first, a spoiler warning: because this is a review of the entire season, there will be some spoilers. I’m trying to keep those to a minimum, but if you haven’t seen the season yet you might want to avoid and come back.

The show follows the same general concept of Adams’ work, but with many liberties taken. That concept is that Dirk Gently is a holistic detective who uses the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve crimes rather than going the conventional route of gathering evidence.

A previous adaptation was done (just titled Dirk Gently) by Itv, in 2010, and featured Stephen Mangan in the lead role. Mangan brought a wonderful level of arrogant humor to the role and the show was surprising delightful (though it aired only 4 episodes).

In comparison, this version dials the humor back slightly (though there were many moments where I was laughing) and ups the weird levels considerably. To give a quick overview of the world’s most complicated plot: Todd, a bellhop, played by Elijah Wood (who is perfect here. Just as he is perfect in everything), who becomes involved in Dirk Gently’s latest case and is quickly claimed by Dirk Gently to be his best friend. It involves: Lydia Springs the kidnapped daughter of a billionaire, soul swapping, a corgi, murders committed by a shark in a hotel room, an illness that causes sensory hallucinations, a kitten, a group of perpetrators of chaos who go by the name The Rowdy 3 even though there are four of them, an assassin who is aided by the universe, puzzles that involve booby traps, and more.

Dirk is played by Samuel Barnett, who I admit I struggled with in the first few episodes. He plays Gently in a hyper-child sort of way and is more annoying than funny. However, to give Barnett credit, by halfway through the series he was showing the layers beneath the surface read of the character and by the end of the season I was fully on board. In his take on the character, that hyperness and obnoxious quality covers up how fundamentally lonely Gently is at heart.

And bringing up Barnett, moves me on to the phenomenal casting of this show. I came for the Douglas Adams’ material, the presence of Elijah Wood, and the corgi I saw in the trailers (the corgi actor’s name is Bentley!). However, I was surprised by how much I came to enjoy each character. The real find though, to me, is Jade Eshete as Farah—a security officer working for Lydia’s father. Farah is a badass and Eshete’s performance is pitch perfect. There are several highlights of the character, but using a bra’s underwire as a lock pick might take the cake.

Again, though, it’s hard to single out just one of the characters/actors because the show is stuffed with excellent ones. Neil Brown Jr’s Detective Estevez has an excellent emotional arc from beginning the show as a confident detective set on finding the missing girl and being a good cop to a man who’s whole world is thrown into disarray. Brown plays both sides of this continuum  skillfully and in a scene where he basically flips out because he just wants to know what’s going on his face registers confused anger and resignation in a subtle shift.

To move away from the acting, the show also uses music very well. Each chosen song seemed perfectly placed—particularly a surprisingly effective use of Neon Tree’s “First Things First.” The direction, camera work, and set design also all aid the show. It’s as clever looking as the show’s premise. Also, props to the costume designer, who has a smart, smart move with Dirk’s outerwear (that I won’t mention as to avoid a major spoiler).

And now on to the weaker elements of the show: basically not everything works. It’s an ambitious show in terms of what it’s trying to do on a story level, but the elements don’t always add up and the pacing is a mixed bag-- sometimes too slow and sometimes too disorientingly fast. There are also a lot of moments where characters explain crucial elements of the plot in order to help the audience get to the “aha” faster which sometimes bog it down.

That being said, I’d have probably scored the show somewhat lower if I had done it before the finale. The finale is almost surprisingly excellent: not only does it tie up the story threads in clever and fitting ways but it also pulls off some surprisingly emotional scenes. However, there is one death that I found extremely upsetting. I think it works for the show: emotionally and in terms of what the episode is doing at the very end, and yet, I find myself actively fighting against agreeing with the decision to do so.

Here’s hoping for a season two!

Some random things I noted as I was watching the show:

--One of the villains, Gordon Rimmer, is played by a fairly gruffed up Aaron Douglas. When I realized, I actually shouted “Chief!!” at my computer screen. (For those of you who aren’t BSG fans, whatever, I don’t need you to understand my excitement).

--The Interconnected Assassin, Bart, is played by Fiona Dourif. She is Brad Dourif’s daughter. So Frodo is united with Wormtongue sort of.

--A wordless shrug shared between two characters in the final episode is maybe the best television shrug ever.

--I didn’t even mention the story arc between Elijah Wood’s Todd and his sister, Amanda (played by Hannah Marks). It’s one of my favorite things in the show because of how well done it is.

--The fight scenes are all really well done.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for a corgi being in every episode, +2 for a standout finale that makes the show feel much more complete, +1 for some fun call backs to the Adams’ novels

Penalties: -1 for pacing issues, -1 for that death (because I’m bitter), -1 for some issues of explanation

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 “
well worth your time and attention


POSTED BY: Chloe, speculative fiction fan in all forms, monster theorist, and Nerds of a Feather blogger since 2016.

Reference: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, BBC America, 2016