From the off, Dirk Gently aims to be bonkers, and in that it absolutely succeeds. From the start to the end it is in a bewildering chaotic rush, that, unless you stay focused on what’s happening, can quickly get you lost. Of course, this is rather the point, and if nothing else, the ride is very fun. Neither the viewer nor the characters have any idea what’s going on, and it remains fun throughout to watch these people hysterically shrieking and questioning the madness behind the events. Scenes such as the confrontation with the main villain, where it’s clear no one is anymore clued up about the proceedings, and a hopelessly incompetent prisoner exchange, are endlessly entertaining. Based on Douglas Adam’s lesser known book series, it does – albeit with far more guns, action and characterisation than his books displayed – seem to retain much of the spirit both of the original Dirk Gently. This is a thoroughly insane, chaotic, hilarious universe, in which the investigation of seemingly disparate events leads to a series of developments each crazier than the last. From a body swapped dog, to overly complicated murderous room escapes, time travel, and (something that should be in every show) highly destructive kitten/sharks.
That’s not to say it doesn’t get a bit much at times. It often rather feels like there is too much going on in certain episodes. There were certain characters or scenarios which feel almost as if they should have gun an entire series of their own. Every scene for example with super assassin Bart is just enormous fun. Fiona Dourif portrays someone enormously out of kilter with reality, as well as genuinely intimidating at times. The whole performance is almost like that of a child, and the relationship she develops with the poor guy she drags along with her is really quite involving as well. The hyperactivity of the show overall is perhaps best exemplified with the main character himself. Samuel Barnett is enormously watchable, and it’s his Dirk that gets all the best lines. Yet at the same time, it does get exhausting watching him. He is so exaggeratedly hyperactive that at times, it does become a little irritating in how over the top it is, and the scenes where he does try and tone it down a bit don’t particularly gel. It is in every sense over the top, and reminds me, furthermore, of Matt Smith’s take on Doctor Who. In fact, it does feel somewhat like a copy and paste.
Of course, this is half the point. The show is seen through the eyes of Elijah Wood’s Todd after all, and we truly buy his irritation and bafflement throughout. And as mentioned, the scenes with Dirk do remain, for the most part, great fun. The thing that grates more than anything, for me, is the fact that Dirk Gently is called Dirk Gently. While it retains the books spirit, this is perhaps not the best adaptation of a book, really. Aside from the job description, there is very little similarity between the Gently of the books and this Gently. Where here we are dealing with an Eleventh Doctor clone, the books give us a character much more akin to Bernard Black (albeit a psychic version) than anything else. He is a completely self-absorbed, conniving slob, who is often portrayed as much of con artist, as he is the real deal. This was an avenue brilliantly portrayed by the BBC version, Stephen Mangan being perfect for this role. This of course, is not such a problem if you know nothing of the books, and when taken on its own, the show can’t really be faulted for that. It might have been nicer to have a character slightly less hyperactive though.
In the end though, Gently is not truly the central character in all this. The one who shines most in this series is probably Todd, with whom Elijah Wood plays his usual skillset, giving off the same air of completely lost bafflement as in Wilfred (the show where he spends most of his time doing drugs with a talking dog). It may be similar to what we’ve seen from him beforehand, but he does it brilliantly, and with quite a lot of heart. He is very much the audience avatar in perpetual confusion, and is surprisingly well fleshed out throughout. Character development is overall something this does far better than the books or the BBC adaptation, and when the happy ending suddenly goes wrong in the final episode, the cliff-hanger we’re left with is a genuinely tense one there is a genuine sense of disappointment and worry for the characters.
All in all, then, a truly fun watch, with some brilliant lines and surprisingly developed characters; even if occasionally all the madness does leave you just as bewildered as the characters, and it must be taken as something entirely original, rather than being compared to the characters it’s based on.