First Impressions: A recurring feature in which I review only the pilot of an online streaming series because I’m busy with ‘LYF’ and unfortunately don’t have time to watch the whole thing. Sarry not sarry.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency might seem at first like a cynical rip off of BBC’s Sherlock (and hey, maybe it is) but its offbeat, open hearted take on the detective genre charms once your eyes adjust to its bubble-gum pop storytelling ways.
‘Holistic’ detective Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) believes everything in the universe is interlinked and uses this to solve a bizarre string of crimes that (surprise!) are all connected. Down on his luck everyman Todd “I’m not your fucking Watson” Brotzman gets reluctantly sucked into Gently’s world of absurdity and intrigue.
Comparisons with Sherlock are inevitable so let’s get them out the way first- both star a posh English eccentrics who needs a put upon straight man to keep him anchored, and both feature bizarre mysteries that can only be solved by the titular character’s unconventional genius. But while Sherlock prestigiously postures and takes itself too seriously, Dirk Gently is a burst of primary coloured energy trying hard to be capital F Fun.
Samuel Barnett as the ever optimistic Dirk does a good job handling a character that could (and initially does) grate, but while Barnett plays the role with a wide-eyed ‘gee, shucks’ naivety, he’s restrained enough to just pull back from full on pantomime camp making his performance increasingly endearing as the first episode goes on.
Elijiah Wood is great as the exasperated bellhop Todd Brotzman, an everyman entrypoint character that could have easily been phoned in, but Wood brings a lot to the character using only a shifty look or harassed shrug to hint at the kind of guy Todd really is. He’s an incredible non-verbal actor, and you quickly remember why he was chosen to carry one of the biggest film franchises ever, even if it was when he was playing Frodo the Drip.
The whole episode looks beautiful no matter whatever is taking place on screen; even a dingy room where a woman is being held captive has the cosy hipster ambience you’ve been trying and failing to create in your own home for months. Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s beautiful and strange score is a mix of classical instruments and electonica, nicely complementing the episode’s whimsical eeriness.
Being holistic and all, Dirk Gently has a lot of threads and tries hard to keep a foot in the mainstream during the pilot so all the offbeat wacky storylines and characters doesn’t turn off casual viewers. It’s an understandable choice, but it waters down some of the jokes when really it should fully commit, like with the two hapless government agents who are tracking Dirk. In those sequences the writers seem to be going for Archer-esque obnoxious humour but it feels restrained and as result doesn’t quite hit the mark. Gently might just be easing viewers into its weirdness, so here’s hoping it starts to lean into the surreal humour the show’s set up is so predisposed to.
A weird show trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but will only really hit its stride once it fully allows itself to get its freak on.
Watch past first episode? Yes!