On Friday, BBC America aired the premiere episode of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in full to those attending New York Comic Con 2016. The show stars Elijah Wood as Todd Brotzman and Samuel Barnett as Dirk Gently.
The series is based on a pair of novels by beloved sci-fi writer Douglas Adams, which follow the exploits of an eccentric, “holistic detective” and his unenthusiastic sidekick. In part, Adams drew inspiration for the story from writing for Doctor Who in the late 1970s.
I should preface this by saying I’m not familiar with the non-Hitchhiker's Guide works by Adams (although I’m suddenly, acutely aware I should be). In other words, I came to the series premiere of Dirk Gently totally cold. Even so, the show blew me away with its charm, humor and deft weaving of comedy, drama, mystery and fantasy. When the episode ended, I couldn’t wait to see the next one.
Wood and Barnett’s crackling, back-and-forth banter really is delightful to watch. Wood’s character, Todd, seems at first to be a more dour, gloomy version of Futurama’s Phillip J. Fry. Yet by the end of the premiere, we begin to see he’s a bit more complicated, someone who’s made some very dubious choices out of a sense of desperation.
In contrast, Gently breezes into the story like a doe-eyed member of the fairy folk, all innocence and earnestness. Somehow, he can offer an evisceratingly accurate takedown of Todd’s entire life, while simultaneously offering Todd friendship and adventure, and also simultaneously being the worst kind of mooch. He's completely winning, the kind of imaginary friend we'd all like to mysteriously drop into our lives. In a memorable scene released online by the BBC prior to the show’s Oct. 22 premiere, Dirk says, “Perhaps, every day before now has, for the most part, been humdrum and inane? Your life a mundane, unvarying slog through unfulfilling jobs, shallow depression and boring, boooring sex?” Todd attempts to interrupt, presumably to defend his amorous endeavors, but Dirk plows on, “Suddenly, your life became a swirl of interesting activity.” Dirk then promptly declares that Todd is to be his assistant on “the case,” even though the exact parameters of said case are anything but clear, and henceforth he’ll be crashing at Todd’s apartment and sleeping on the couch.
As for the story, well, at this point that’s a bit harder to explain, but it’s also hard not to be captivated by it all. At NYCC, showrunner Max Landis said, “I’m not going for ‘just the tip’ of Douglas Adams’ weirdness, I’m going full weird.” That approach is abundantly evident in the show’s premiere, which introduces the following: the murder of a mysterious billionaire, a machete-wielding woman who appears to be an evil equivalent to Dirk, a black kitten, an adorable corgi, mysterious head tattoos, another woman locked in a creeper-riffic red room, a missing girl, a winning lottery ticket, a meathead FBI sniper and prophetic visions. (I’m sure I’m leaving something out.) Also, apparently the story will involve time travel at some point. And yet, it all somehow works.
If you’d enjoy science fiction with a dark comedic slant, or just want to watch something completely unlike everything else on television, be sure to tune in to BBC America for the premiere of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. EDT.