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Friday, May 24, 2013

DIRK GENTLY -- DVD review by porfle

A more down-to-earth Douglas Adams is still a pretty way-out Douglas Adams, as we find when the wildly imaginative author applies his skewed sensibilities to the private detective genre in DIRK GENTLY.

Based on Adams' "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" books, this one-season British TV series follows the adventures of the incorrigibly eccentric Gently (Stephen Mangan) as he applies his theories on the cosmic interconnectedness of all things in the universe to such relatively mundane pursuits as investigating possible marital infidelity or locating a little old lady's lost cat.

With Dirk Gently on the case, however, things have a tendency to get weird, like when an attractive woman enlists him to track down her stalker--who, it turns out, is Dirk--or when a paranoid conspiracy nut who tells Dirk he's being watched by the Pentagon is, in fact, being watched by the Pentagon.

Dead bodies crop up at every turn, with Dirk possessing an amazing talent for stumbling upon crime scenes and looking as guilty as possible in the eyes of his nemesis, Detective Inspector Gilks (Jason Watkins). After using hypnosis to persuade erstwhile college chum Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd, who was an excellent John Cleese in the Monty Python biopic HOLY FLYING CIRCUS) to invest $20,000 in the "Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency" and act as his assistant, the two operate out of the most derelict-looking office in detective fiction while their hostile, unpaid secretary Janice ( Lisa Jackson) continues to show up for work only to harangue her employers.

Gently's methods don't make a lot of sense at first until you start getting used to the seemingly nonsensical way he pieces ostensibly unrelated bits of information together to come up with solutions that can ultimately be rather astonishing--or at least seem so if you don't think them through too carefully. Stories straddle the line between everyday realism and comical farce so adeptly that there's never a jarring transition from one to the other--just when a scene appears to be getting uncomfortably sentimental or emotional, something rather delightfully irreverent punctures the mood.

I like the constant hostility that exists between the two leads--Gently and MacDuff are like the anti-Holmes and Watson--and the fact that Gently resolutely refuses to display any positive traits designed to make us "like" him more. He's a likable character despite all the evidence we're given to the contrary, or perhaps because he's so craven, self-centered, vain, greedy, and overwhelmingly irresponsible, in addition to being refreshingly unconventional. Lack of sentimentality is a strong point with this series.

Season one--and with the show's apparent cancellation, the only one--begins with a pilot episode that introduces us to the characters and shows how Dirk and MacDuff manage to become partners. This is the one where Dirk is hired to find the old lady's cat, but with Douglas Adams at the helm, the story comes to include such fanciful elements as time travel. How the two are interconnected gives the story a delightful twist. Next, Episode 1 is a frenetic mish-mash of (interconnected) loose ends such as the aforementioned Pentagon surveillance, mysterious computer programs, and whether or not astrology really controls our lives. (Dirk is skeptical.)

In Episode 2, Dirk returns to St Cedd's Institute of Science and Technology, Cambridge, where he first learned his holistic methods but was later expelled for cheating. As a security consultant, he's in charge of guarding a lifelike robot named Elaine, who naturally disappears along with an artificial intelligence program that has just achieved sentience. My favorite of the series, Episode 2 veers into deliciously dark "X-Files" territory with some of Adams' trademark scintillating sci-fi elements and a surprisingly resonant emotional core as Dirk meets and falls in love with the mysterious Jane (Lydia Wilson, "Midsomer Murders: Master Class"), who is involved in it all in some way.

With this excellent episode, the series shows its greatest promise for what might have been had it been allowed to continue. Episode 3 concludes the season with another entertaining foray into interconnectedness as Dirk's former clients start turning up dead and Dirk may be next on the list. As always, it's nicely yet modestly mounted, well-produced but not overdone, with a wonderfully capable supporting cast including Helen Baxendale ("Marple: A Pocketful of Rye") as MacDuff's long-suffering girlfriend Susan. The backbone of the series, of course, is Stephen Mangan as Dirk Gently, who plays the role with an almost cartoonish enthusiasm that's quite the opposite of his staid Inspector Bird character in "Marple: At Bertram's Hotel."

The 2-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles. No extras.

If you only know Douglas Adams from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", you owe it to yourself to see what his boundless imagination could do in a more mundane setting. DIRK GENTLY is a treat for fans of detective fiction, comedy, and sci-fi, once you learn to appreciate how interconnected they can be.

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