Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016) follows the adventures (and misadventures, of which there are no small number) of Dirk Gently, a Detective with a sunny disposition, a dubious relationship with the unwelcoming CIA, and an impressive number of colourful leather jackets. In the first episode, he obtains an assistant and (briefly) a kitten, and the subsequent instalments detail the ever widening and bewildering parameters of his investigation, which includes, among other things, abduction, murder, body swapping, time travel, and a magic light bulb. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is unpredictable, startlingly clever and thoroughly bizarre. This review will touch on a couple of reasons as to why it is also compelling TV.
Dirk Gently, the titular character, neglects to utilise any of the recognisable or expected methods by which cases are ordinarily investigated, instead postulating an approach with greater scope, undeniable freedom, and the regular employment of a range of questionable – though exciting – vehicles. He works on the basis of mostly unexplained knowledge backed up by profound enthusiasm (and the frequent repetition of “everything is connected”) and Todd, his assistant, initially does little more than get carried along for the frequently baffling ride.
Exceedingly well depicted and wonderfully written, Dirk Gently’s character arc is sympathetic and engaging, all the more so for the fact that it is not entirely – or even predominantly – explained in full. His depiction is not without depth and reasonable variation, for he is by turns knowledgeable and unaware, surrounded by friends and utterly alone, confident and painfully uncertain, but the viewer is provided with only the occasional indication as to what he might have experienced prior to his current case. The gaps, however, encourage a sense of mystery rather than irritation. As answers are provided for other questions throughout the show, there is arguably some sense that this will, too, eventually be answered in full. The character of Dirk Gently is not without believable flaws, and he freely admits to a host of mistakes.
The other characters are equally interesting and experience considerable development, above and beyond the aforementioned plot. Amanda Brotzman suffers a disease that causes painful hallucinations, and at the beginning of the series is housebound. By the point of the finale, however, she has gained in confidence and certainty, leaves the house regularly, and lives her life on her own terms – often unapologetically, but always with compassion, and a thorough understanding of the less laudable quirks of human nature. Her depiction gains greater impact in that while she is frequently shown to suffer often from her particularly debilitating illness, she is also in possession of dependable insight and arguably the most reasonable perspective of all the characters in the show. There is no indication that her illness renders her incapable in any conceivable way, and no suggestion that the other characters even consider that to be a possibility, which too often transpires on other shows.
Every character in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is vital to the narrative, and as richly defined and vibrantly depicted as the next, whether they appear for just a handful of minutes, or in every single episode.
It is around the murder of Patrick Spring and the abduction of his daughter Lydia that the plot predominantly circulates, in the context of which the various characters often clash, frequently at length, and usually in the spirit of unutterable confusion and a vague sense of established and necessary opposition. Each episode works inevitably towards the possibility of the case being solved, and this lends a wide-reaching, cohesive structure to a show in possession of no small amount of increasingly incongruous content, and a reasonable if not entirely convincing reassurance that the weirdness does not in fact exist without cause. It may just be that the cause has yet to sidle into view.
Finally, while the specifics of the plot are no small cause for concern (that poor, tiny, defenceless kitten), and there are no few scenes that border upon the heart wrenching or at the very least decidedly painful, there are also moments of genuine happiness, good fun, and undeniable humour. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is neither relentlessly dark nor cheerfully light-hearted, but instead, like the plot and characters, contains the good, the bad, and the undeniable depth and surety of excellent storytelling.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is an brilliant show with strong writing, intriguing and diverse characters, and a narrative that is always peculiar and never tediously predictable. It is unique in its structure and extremely well crafted, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone with a particular interest in the weird, the wonderful and the ceaselessly wacky, or with an admitted preference for people in leather jackets. It’s almost impossible to categorise this show with any certainty, other than in the realm of sci-fi, but wherever it belongs, it should be recognised to be of very high quality – and exceptionally gifted at generating considerable confusion.