Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Dirk Gently – Episode 1

March 20, 2012 by Nicholas

Dirk Gently is a tv series (very loosely) based on two Douglas Adams novels starring the character of the same name. He runs a holistic detective agency, which takes a rather unique approach to solving crimes as it believes that any and all events are interconnected and that everything, in fact, can be relevant to the case at hand. The tv series goes to great lengths to portray this as being part of quantum mechanics rather than chaos theory, which I always thought is what it was.

It has been a great number of years since I read the books, so my memory of them is probably inaccurate and rose tinted, but there seems to be previous little of the books in the tv series. I can see that the books themselves won’t translate particularly well to a visual medium where showing action is the order of the day, but a lot of the underpinning mechanics of the stories also seem to have vanished: while I can understand a long treatise on a building being fundamentally sick and tired of what it was and deciding to spontaneously explode or the physical impossibility of a jammed sofa actually occupying the space that it is rammed into won’t make for good tv the character of Dirk himself and the nature of the mysteries he faces and how he solves them also seem at odds with the source material.

This is not to say that the series is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s passably amusing and certainly not insulting to the viewer. Some of the dialogue is actually quite good and the lead is engaging and fun to watch. But it does feel rather more like a kooky mystery of the week formula rather than being true to the spirit of Adams’ work.

For instance, in the books, Gently has an old friend who ends up writing horoscopes for a paper and deliberately writes them to annoy him. This leads the paper to lose a twelfth of its circulation and makes for an amusing aside. That someone would believe them and act  upon them is actually more akin to a Viz strip in which someone reads they will be run over and decides to facilitate this by standing in the middle of the road. It’s still British humour, but the wrong humourist. One of the other plot points is nicked from Chinatown (and probably numerous other places) and the solution to the case relies on coincidence rather than brilliance. It all feels rather unfulfilling and somehow wrong. But it is done entertainingly enough.