You are speaking with Svlad, commonly known as “Dirk” Cjelli, currently trading under the name of Gently for reasons which it would be otiose, at this moment, to rehearse. I bid you good evening. If you wish to know more I will be at the Pizza Express in Upper Street in ten minutes. Bring some money.
I keep this fairly low under the radar, so it’s fine if it’s not something you’ve spotted, and I understand if it’s going to be a shock, but: Douglas Adams is my favourite author. I love the bubbling undercurrent of anger in every Terry Pratchett book, and the depth of the built worlds of Neil Gaiman. I have a lot of respect for the attempted revival of stock theatre traditions that make up the other side of David Eddings’ work, and the flow and construction of P. G. Wodehouse tends to make me want to read it out loud. But Douglas Adams is my favourite, and I don’t feel the need to explain why.
This gives me an advantage, in a way. There is no chance in this flawed multiverse that any attempt to adapt one of his worlds is going to match my expectations. That bar is set so high in my mind that clearing it would happily provide us with a handy pair of space elevators. No, so long as an adaptation has something of itself to be true to, I can usually accept it as someone elses’ attempt to play in the same sandbox. I’ve enjoyed most adaptations, save the ones that seemed either soul-less or an attempt to *be* Douglas Adams’ long lost work, instead of its own thing with the books as a starting point. I could enjoy the Hitchhiker’s movie as a movie that started from the radio series. The TV series was a good TV series that started from the books. I wasn’t a massive fan of the Salmon of Doubt, because a lot of it felt invasive and remastered sketches, and the only thing I actively disliked was Eoin Colfer’s “…And Another Thing” which failed the “true to itself” thing, and fell down a pit of trying too hard to be a Douglas Adams book, instead of an Eoin Colfer Hitchhiker’s book.
All of which brings me to the two adaptations of Dirk Gently to the TV.
The BBC Dirk Gently was a case-per-episode show that kind of got the main character mostly right, and the style of story right, but attempting to fit a plot per episode didn’t really give it the chance to get the universe right. I liked it a lot, the music was absolutely spot on, Stephen Mangan gives good Dirk, filling in the scatty, messy, cat-like “I meant to do that” attitude very well, but it didn’t really have space to breathe.
The new Netflix version (Which is co-produced by BBC America, so is technically BBC as well, I suppose) I’ve watched all eight 45 minute episodes of over the last couple of days. It is as to the books as the movie of HHGG was to its books. It’s a full reimagining of the concept of the world as a miniseries. The universe works better than the BBC version, in that it embraces the whole crack-pot universe of the books where everything really is connected, there aren’t any coincidences, and the universe goes out of its way to put Gently in the middle of all of those. A friend on Facebook called it the Anti-Lost, in that it carefully wraps up almost all of its knots before the end of the series. It can’t quite resist putting mysticism over the top of Gently’s inability to be part of a coincidence, leaving it only slightly vague as to whether it’s actually a minor super power; but it then does use that overarching idea to Yang Dirk’s Yin with the concept of a Holistic Assassin, which is a very Adams thing to do. Samuel Barnett’s Dirk is a ball of directionless energy with occasional cracks in the facade, which is a switch from the books’ more slovenly and shady detective, but enough to be the same character.
There is no connection between the events of the books and the Netflix show, the latter of which mentions some past association with Thor, but without attempting to spoil anything it’s a confusing mess of coincidences that tangle up messily and get solved partly by the holistic thing being right, partly by intuition, and partly by accident. It also doesn’t do the Westworld annoyance of only knocking down dominoes in the last two episodes, there are sufficient large reveals on the way to keep you not only invested, but satisfied, I think.
It’s not perfect, it’s a little manic and the first few episodes are overstuffed. A lot of the episodes get weighed down by the – realistic – refusal of the POV character to want to interact with the plot when it gets dangerous, and needing some kind of inspiring speech to get him through the next gateway; but late in the series there are some glorious scenes calling people on their bullshit, so it at least has payoff.
Basically, I think it’s worth a punt. The first series is eight episodes, takes a couple to strip the protective coating off the concept, and ends well. It’s six hours of your life you could instead use learning another language, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.