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Home Arts & Culture Binge-worthy with Benjamin Middendorf: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

by Benjamin Middendorf


Have you ever wondered if everything is connected? If that grumpy person you smiled at could someday get you the job of your dreams? If eating the last doughnut in Janzow could somehow cause WWIII? (It totally could by the way, history books will lambast you for your short-sighted appetite, you greedy person).

Ostensibly, that’s the entire premise of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a show from BBC America (Britain’s revenge on American TV viewers for the whole tea party business) and Netflix. It’s based on a book series of the same name by Douglas Adams, who well-read and/or especially nerdy people will recognize as the author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is the second TV adaption in a decade by the BBC, but this rendition moves from 1980s Britain to 2010s America, and the main character is pretty much the only thing that survives from the books (full disclosure, I have not read that series, but I have read Hitchhikers, on which I’m basing my later opinions on Adams).

Dirk Gently, played by Samuel Barnett (maybe the only British actor in the show) is a “holistic detective.” He places himself in the middle of a case, then waits for things to happen, confident in the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things.” Or he makes things happen, such as breaking into the apartment of the hapless Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood), a bellboy at the hotel where a famous billionaire was murdered by something with very large teeth. Todd, despite his reluctance, is apparently assistant material, and it’s through his eyes that we see most of the show.

The tone of the show could be described as “zany,” and the performances fit that tone. Barnett chews through every scene he’s in, and fans of Doctor Who will see definite nods to and possible plagiarism of Matt Smith. Wood is still frighteningly young looking, and he plays the unlucky comedic foil with relatability, if not memorability. After performing opposite a man in a dog costume for four seasons of the show “Wilfred,” this role probably seems almost normal for him.

The supporting cast helps keep the show moving through its somewhat ADD plot. Todd’s haunted sister Amanda, played by Hannah Marks, is a tragic character who develops over the course of the show. There’s a strange reflection of Dirk in Bart Curlish, a holistic assassin who assumes that anyone she kills in a murderous rampage was her target. She’s played by Fiona Dourif, the daughter of Brad Dourif (Wormtongue from the Lord of the Rings—the resemblance between father and daughter is uncanny once you realize it), and her murderous antics and banter with her prisoner, Ken (played by Mpho Koaho), are almost more interesting than the main plot at times.

That plot is probably where the show might lose some of you, especially those who haven’t read Douglas Adams or don’t appreciate his style of throwing weird things at you and sometimes connecting them up later (often four books later). The show switches between Dirk and Todd, Bart and Ken, Amanda, a police detective duo and a few other disparate side plots. There are secret government programs, time travel, strange tattooed cults, a group of four hooligans called “The Rowdy 3” for some reason and peculiar housepets. They all get pulled together in the end, in true Adams fashion, but until then things can seem aimless.

A fair warning for sensitive viewers: The first episode begins with a slow backwards pan through the murder scene, and bodies, blood and dismembered limbs are on full display. Within 20 minutes of the start, Bart Curlish dispatches someone with a machete and remains blood stained for the majority of the show. People are shot and stabbed in almost every episode, and one side plot revolves around a woman tied to a bed above Todd’s apartment.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency ends on a cliffhanger, and season two will be coming sometime in 2017. The first season is unfortunately not available for streaming without access to the BBC America channel, and is only on Netflix for those living outside of the United States (the tricky devils). It can be purchased on Amazon though, or accessed through means that the university frowns upon and this newspaper in no way endorses. Seriously, buy your entertainment, people. You’re the reason Elijah Wood is starving (he’s not). I bet you wouldn’t even give him the last doughnut.

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