Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency Worth a Second Look
BBC America’s science fiction show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is based on a pair of novels by Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Science fiction author Tom Gerencer loves the idea of Dirk Gently—a detective who trusts in fate and leaves everything up to chance.
“He’s not a brilliant detective,” Gerencer says in Episode 281 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, “but in a way he’s making these other brilliant realizations that step completely off logic and go into the realm of ‘let go of all that stuff and get into the flow of things, and you’re going to find that things work out a lot better for you that way.’”
The show has a lot going for it, including an original voice, brilliant writing, and complex characters, but it’s failed to connect with many viewers. Writer Leah Schnelbach loves how the show’s many mysteries slowly come together, but acknowledges that Dirk Gently can be a challenge for newcomers. “It’s sort of a slow burn,” she says. “Because it is so dense, and so tightly packed with stuff, it can be a little difficult for somebody to just sort of dip into it.”
Dirk Gently has also failed to connect with many Douglas Adams fans, who are put off by the show’s many deviations from the source material. But science fiction editor John Joseph Adams thinks that if those fans stick with the series, they’ll find themselves enjoying it more and more.
“Douglas Adams is not one of those writers where you can really 100 percent faithfully adapt one of his things to a different medium and expect it to work the same way,” he says. “Even he himself changed things when he wrote something first as a radio play, and then when he turned it into a book, or then when he turned it into a game or whatever. He understood that.”
Gerencer feels that the show does a good job of capturing the most essential aspect of Douglas Adams—the idea that the only way to survive in an incomprehensible universe is to just stop worrying about it so much.
“It has that feeling of somebody who’s looking at the universe and saying, ‘What the heck is going on?’ And then confronting the answer that you can find out what’s going on, but it’s going to make less sense than if you never asked the question at all. But just have a good time with it, it’ll be fun. That seems to be the underlying theme of his entire body of work,” he says.
Listen to the complete interview with Tom Gerencer, Leah Schnelbach, and John Joseph Adams in Episode 281 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Tom Gerencer on meeting Douglas Adams:
“I went over to England—I lived there for a year—and while I was there I picked up the London phone book and looked in it, and I looked for his address. It said ‘Sirius Productions.’ I called him and nobody answered, so I went there and rang the bell, and this voice came through the speaker. I was expecting it to be a business—like I would get his secretary or something—but this male British voice came through the speaker and said, ‘Hello?’ And I said, ‘Hi, I’m here studying radio theater for a year, and I’d like to try to interview Douglas Adams.’ There was this long pause, and then this voice said, ‘Umm, how did you get this address?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s in the phone book.’ And he went, ‘Ah, right.’ And then he said, ‘Would you come back next Tuesday at 11 am?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I came back, and sure enough it was his house, and he invited me in and gave me a beer and let me talk to him for a couple hours. It was fantastic.”
Leah Schelbach on Todd and Amanda:
“It was really interesting to see such a close sibling relationship, because I feel like that isn’t something that shows up on TV all that often. … It was just extremely deep, I thought, which was nice, because it’s rare to see real adults on TV at this point, so seeing the two of them as people who’ve tried to create lives for themselves that haven’t quite worked out, and now they’re getting to an age where they’re trying to figure out what they can do next, and they both feel kind of stuck, and then Dirk comes into their lives and disrupts everything—it’s just interesting to watch them react to that, and then to see how it actually has repercussions through their past as well as their present.”
Leah Schnelbach on Dirk Gently vs. Sherlock Holmes:
“A lot of people were comparing Dirk particularly—and Samuel Barnett’s performance—to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, which could not be more different, I don’t think. And Samuel Barnett, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, said that ‘Sherlock has his mind palace, but I have my neuroses cottage,’ which I really love, because it’s such a perfect way to sum him up. He’s a much warmer character—I mean, he does have that same desire for friendships with people and the complete inability to gain friendships, but he is also a much warmer character. And also he’s reliant on the universe to throw clues at him, rather than deducing with his massive brain the way Sherlock does.”
Tom Gerencer on mortality:
“In one of the last books in the Hitchhiker series, Mostly Harmless, they do all die—spoiler alert. But they’ve been about to die 50 times throughout the series, and Ford is always kind of OK with it. Arthur’s always very stressed out, and Ford is always very Dirk Gently-like. He’s like, ‘Hey, well, you know, just try to hold your breath. If you fall from a skyscraper and you’re about to hit the ground, swing your knees around, try to roll with it, or try to miss the ground if you can.’ But he’s just always happy-go-lucky, and when they finally realize, ‘No, we really are going to die now,’ and Arthur’s so stressed out about it, he asks Ford, ‘Well, aren’t you stressed out?’ And he’s like, ‘No.’ He’s still got the same attitude he always did. He really knows that this is it, they’re not going to get rescued this time, but he’s still got the same attitude he’s always had. Just like, ‘Hey, well, that’s what’s going to happen now.’ It’s no big deal to him.”
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