Dirk Gently Review: Sleuth Will Out

DIRK GENTLY: Monday 5th March, BBC4, 9pm

Dirk Gently, the self-styled “holistic detectiveâ€? labelled as “an annoying prickâ€?, and a “tethered goatâ€? among other charming epithets throughout Episode 1 of the new three-part detective series, is a dishevelled, deranged and demented mess of a man played convincingly by the actor who brought Greenwing’s vile Guy Secretan to life, Stephen Mangan.

The new series commissioned off the back of a remarkably successful pilot aired in 2010, which reached triple its expected viewing figures, is bound to receive interest due to the recent success of Sherlock – another dynamic yet dysfunctional detective played by another striking, well-spoken actor.

But Dirk Gently, a sci-fi character resurrected from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ novels about a “Holistic Detective Agencyâ€?, is constantly wobbling along the tightrope between genius and bungler, with none of Sherlock’s infallible slickness and general omnipotence. Gently gets pizza on his face, frenziedly saws up a desk chair when it impedes his sleuthing and calls his car “Princessâ€?.

“We must embrace chaosâ€?, he insists with a noble eyebrow raised, before scampering off to escape the exasperated policemen forever on his trail. His form of investigation uses a huge web of seemingly unrelated but interconnected events and countless serendipitous occurrences in order to find the answer. Otherwise known as “bollocksâ€?, as described by Gently’s perpetually nonplussed sidekick, Richard Macduff (Darren Boyd).

The first episode, written by Misfits’ Howard Overman (a different writer is behind each episode), follows a complex mesh of sub-plots – all mapped out on an ancient white-board in Gently’s crumbling office – including an adultery case, conspiracy theories, unnervingly accurate horoscopes, and of course, constant pursuit by the Pentagon.

There are some beautifully comic moments in a gripping, galloping plotline, including an awkward hug the pleasingly empathy-free Gently has to give to a weeping, wronged wife; the close parodies of detective drama with lines such as “the grown man who cried Pentagonâ€? set to a sizzlingly suspense-filled soundtrack, and some simple sledge-hammering clad in blue underpants.

Gently and Macduff’s double act is reminiscent of Holmes and Watson, with the right-hand man constantly apologising for his cranky master’s misdemeanours, and the compelling characterisation throughout often echoes that of Sherlock. Just replace the sharp pea coat with a moth-eaten jacket, the violin with a takeaway pizza, and the “mind palaceâ€? with anarchic incompetence and you’ll have Dirk Gently.

Read Anoosh’s interview with Stephen Mangan here..