TV Review – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2016)

dirk_gently_2016_logo

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.

Advertisements

TV Review: Preacher – 1×03 ‘The Possibilities’

preacher-1x03-19

AMC’s Preacher stormed onto our scenes, hitting hard and fast. Heralded by a number of increasingly vague trailers that hinted at the action but didn’t offer much in the way of detail, ramping up the sense of intrigue and anticipation, it came into play with all the subtlety of a battering ram, quickly and firmly establishing itself at the very top of many lists.

It hasn’t let up since. Frequently shocking and often controversial, it pulls no punches, and never shies away from difficult, controversial topics. It doesn’t allow for a quick and easy division of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in its plotlines, and certainly does not offer the scope for a breathtakingly simple identification of trope-heavy heroes and villains. As far as the characters are concerned, variety is the name of the game, and their motives are suitably dubious, preventing easy categorisation. They’re layered, complex and diverse enough to be realistic, but retain enough similarity to believably exist in a single community.

(Pause for breath.)

The third episode of Preacher is just as gleefully, shamelessly, unequivocally dark as the first two, gifted with a veritable boatload of oozing, evocative atmosphere. Entitled “The Possibilities,” the thematic focus of the episode seems to be on choices, and the ramifications. Some are made well, others badly, and from Jesse’s eventual acceptance of his odd new ability to Tulip’s insistence on pursuing revenge, there’s genuine and realistic diversity across the board. In this episode, as in the previous two, Preacher doesn’t fail to take into account some particularly harsh truths.

The pacing of the third episode is interesting, as it is primarily characterised by an intriguing mix of long periods of slow movement and relative inactivity, and then sudden bursts of shocking – and often violent – action. Preacher is heavy on blood and guts (metaphorically and literally, it’s like Christmas) and the structured pacing provides for a startling contrast between scenes, setting Preacher apart from shows that favour the consistent bludgeoning approach (that is the official term) of forty-five minutes of intense, death-defying drama. The weather in Preacher is oppressively hot, with little evidence of relieving rain or an occasional cool, stirring breeze, and this contrast between action and lethargy certainly has connotations of hot summer days. Preacher’s depicted weather goes a long way towards implementing a particularly anticipatory atmosphere, as in lingering heat tempers fray, and boiling points are reached absurdly quickly.

(I’m nodding approvingly.)

I thought this was a good, solid episode. Preacher has settled into a strongly recognisable pattern, featuring typically shocking material and a distinct fondness for exploring controversial topics and opinions with impunity. I thought the first episode dragged on far too long, bolstered with scenes that were useful neither for establishing the universe nor for developing the characters, but the second and third ticked along nicely, providing various new threads to existing plotlines, and further developing the introduced characters.

In the third episode, Cassidy chooses to reach out to the vampire hunting vigilantes, who, to his immense surprise, turn out not to be vampire hunting vigilantes at all, but rather a couple of blokes on the side of the angels with an inexplicable fondness for cowboy hats, Tulip (unsurprisingly) chooses to make another doomed effort to reach out to Jesse, and Jesse chooses, somewhat predictably, to yet again bewilder anyone and everyone by setting out on the long road to some sort of believed redemption, with the rest of the town getting dragged along behind him, regardless of their opinions on the matter.

Did I enjoy it?

Absolutely!

It was irreverent, unapologetically dark, and very well structured, furthering the main plotlines without losing sight of the all-important world-building detail.

However, it was also a little predictable. Tulip has been trudging the same path since day one, Jesse’s vacillating faith is par for the course, and Cassidy’s confrontation of the two blokes that he believes are stalking him is surely only to be expected, given his previously-aired prejudice against anyone reckless enough to hunt him down. As such, my favourite parts of the episode were the parts I couldn’t predict, which were in short the shock revelation in regards to the two taciturn antagonists claiming to be from ‘the government,’ and, subsequently, Cassidy’s interactions with the two men in question.

Cassidy’s major involvement in their plotline was nothing less than genius. Watching the three odd creatures bond over their shared beliefs (and general oddness) was decidedly entertaining, and inexplicably heart-warming. With many reasons to dislike each other, they nevertheless located shared ground, and despite mutual distrust, it was that shared ground that prevailed, an interesting response in a town in which violent behaviour is common on every day ending in ‘Y.’ The singularly bizarre nature of their conversation was great material, both entertaining and intriguing.

On a similar note, Cassidy and Jesse’s dubious testing of Jesse’s shiny new ability was also thoroughly amusing, and yet it did not lose sight of the darker options and consequences of what said ability might plausibly achieve.

(Cassidy may or may not be my favourite character. I admit nothing.)

As for what I didn’t like, it seems safe to say that I was simply a little unimpressed with the predictability of the rest of the episode, as the first two had, in every respect, been the opposite. This isn’t a major concern, but just my given reason for why I wouldn’t rate it as highly as the others.

To sum up, I enjoyed the third episode of Preacher a lot. Thoroughly dark and frequently hard-hitting, it doesn’t make things easy for the viewer. There are no attempts to use a cleverly discreet camera angle by which violence might be implied but not explicitly depicted, and the viewer is obliged to see and understand everything in truly graphic detail, complicit to the violent acts that have been committed. With such a talented cast, and clever writing and production – in particular, I found the exceedingly varied dialogue admirable, as it is a rare show indeed that conveys more in the spaces between what characters say than in long, flowery speeches – even the parts that did not, strictly speaking, exceed my expectations, were still very good. It was a strong, entertaining episode that bodes well for what comes next.

(Please excuse me while I clamber down from this soapbox.)