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Britain has been producing top-notch science fiction since before it became an actual genre, with two of the most beloved sci-fi icons here in the U.S. being Doctor Who and comedy genius Douglas Adams. We're still waiting on a modern TV take on Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but BBC America is giving its Whovian audience another wild and complicated set of adventures to follow with an adaptation of the late author's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Make the time to follow the connections, and you'll find that Dirk Gently is unlike anything else on television. Seriously.
No simple way to sum up Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency exists, as this is the rare series that staunchly avoids overt exposition, turning viewers into just as much of a "detective" as the titular character and his sidekick. Penny Dreadful's Samuel Barnett is a wide-eyed tempest as Dirk Gently, an unextinguishable time traveler who knows he's on a mission, despite not often being aware what that mission entails. But Dirk truly believes in the interconnectedness of the universe - a theme embraced by the show's spider web of a central narrative - and this synchronicity leads him to Elijah Wood's former rock musician Todd Brotzman.
Elijah Wood's first major TV role since the final season of the similarly wonky Wilfred, the financially strapped Todd lets the actor do all the things he does incredibly well. He's at first perplexed by everything involving Dirk Gently's presence (as well as another version of himself from the future), playing up Wood as the put-upon bystander, and Todd then becomes an active factor in the central mysteries, playing up Wood as the wide-eyed enthusiast. Dirk and Todd's relationship doesn't immediately snap into place, either, and is a constant work in progress as they go deeper down the rabbit hole. And they're not alone.
For instance, there's Fiona Dourif's Bartine "Bart" Curlish, a holistic and somewhat morally intact assassin whose abilities (including being largely invincible) are linked to Dirk's, as is the way she allows life to guide her from victim to victim. Her unkempt savageness, comparable to that of Helena from fellow BBC America series Orphan Black, is perfectly contrast with that of her initial captive Ken, a tech-friendly hacker played by Mpho Koaho. On the official side of things are investigators Estevez and Zimmerfield, played by the perfectly cast Neil Brown Jr. and Richard Schiff.
Then there's Amanda Brotzman as Todd's sister Hannah, who is afflicted with a disease called Pararibulitis, in which she sees everything in the world as a physical threat; it's not a bad thing to have when you're being stalked by a group of vampiric van-riding villains who aim to take down Dirk Gently. And rounding things out is the surprise standout of the bunch, up-and-coming actress Jade Eshete as Farah Black, whose bite matches her bark as she becomes more enveloped in the mystery at hand. She's quite the firecracker, and her hair is a scene-stealer.
A trio of episodes from the eight-ep season were available to screen for review, and by the end, it felt as if we're still just scratching the surface of the multi-threaded plot, which involves a missing girl with animalistic tendencies, a blisteringly brutal murder, a cabal of deadpan villains with boring pseudonyms, a lottery ticket and, among many other tangents, a mysterious colonel played by TV vet Miguel Sandoval who serves as the link between Dirk Gently and a group of other human aberrations with differing qualities. But the somewhat bloated story shouldn't cause worry, as much of it is a mechanism through which we get to know the central characters better.
In the works for a while now, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency was developed for TV by famed Hollywood offspring Max Landis, perhaps best known for writing Chronicle and perhaps worst known for his various pop culture rants. (Arecent example.) The transition is a mostly smooth one, thankfully, as the style and tone purposefully scale down the aspects of Douglas Adams' comedy that are unique to the written word, and the show doesn't attempt do directly adapt the two novels. Instead, Dirk Gently wisely adheres to the author's adoration of all things odd and idiosyncratic, making the show feel as fun and whimsical as a televised pop-up book, albeit a vastly detailed one with random acts of gritty violence.
As it goes with all things science fiction and comedy and TV and cats and rock music and everything in between, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is not going to please everyone. It isn't a non-stop laugh riot and the tonal shifts can be unsettling, though not once you get used to how the show works. And as hinted at before, its seemingly meandering storyline challenges modern attention spans, but viewers will soon turn into holistic detectives themselves as it's discovered just how much everything really is connected here. Plus, you'll probably know in the first 15 minutes whether or not you're invested.
It is always a sad realization that we'll never get another brand new Douglas Adams novel on book shelves. But there is more than enough of his ever-winking spirit, if not his love for making up language, in BBC America's fantastically absurd and exciting new take on Dirk Gently. Put down your phones and pay attention.
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency will make its debut on BBC American on Saturday, October 22, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Do yourself a favor and keep watching week after week. And to see what else you can expect from the small screen in the coming weeks, check out our fall TV schedule.
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