Recreating Douglas Adams' unique, bizarre humor is like catching cosmic rays in a bottle — messy, breathless, and likely to cost you a few fingers. So let's all celebrate the Dirk Gently pilot's success in some highly improbable comedy. Spoilers...
So the pilot for Dirk Gently, based on the Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency novels, aired the other day on BBC Four. And though it took a good deal of liberties with the plot of the first novel — basically, pulling out a few strands and then weaving in a bunch of new ones — it felt like a decent effort at recapturing the Adams brio. (There's no Electric Monk, although he's mentioned on Dirk's whiteboard at one point.) More than that, it stood on its own as a pilot to a show that I'd happily watch week in and week out.
The clip above is a chunk of my favorite moment from the show — in which Stephen Mangan comes closest to channeling early Tom Baker, with the intense shouting and the low hypnotic purr as he, well, hypnotizes his friend. You can see the gears moving in Dirk Gently's head as he hears that his friend MacDuff has some money left over from his severance package in his power company job, and he "coincidentally" decides to hypnotize MacDuff to get information — and to plant the idea that they should go into business together.
It's been forever since I read the Dirk Gently novels, so I can't honestly remember if the idea that Dirk Gently is a con man was brought up explicitly in them — but what's great about writer/creator Howard Overman's rendering of Dirk is that he's both a conman and a real detective. He's like Schrodinger's Cat, the experiment that Dirk so memorably misrepresents at one point. On one level, he's out to rip people off and take their money, but on another, he actually believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and does have a weird system for solving mysteries by pulling at the threads.
People who were expecting a Hitchhiker's-style fast-moving romp, with a new alien race every twenty minutes and ideas popping out all over, would have been disappointed by Dirk Gently, which feels much more like an extended riff on a single idea. But as a one-hour episode of very low-budget television, it works quite well, with a plot that feels just sprawling enough without going off the rails. It was pretty well telegraphed early on that the missing cat had traveled through time, but the path to the solution had enough fun stops along the way that I didn't care — I especially loved Dirk's conning the psychiatrist into thinking he'd jumped out the window by positioning the not-at-all-similar MacDuff on the ground, and the fact that it turned out Dirk himself was the cause of all of the problems.
So even though this more ne'er-do-well version of Dirk is somewhat different from the one I remember from Adams' books, he still feels like a very Adams-esque creation to me, and I'd happily watch a whole series of his adventures. More please.