Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is one of the most interesting, bizarre and well written mystery shows in recent memory. If you’re a fan of:

  • Authors like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett
  • British TV comedies, like Red Dwarf
  • Science Fiction mystery shows like The X-Files, Lost and Dark
  • Asking yourself “What is going on here?” out of curiosity rather than remote-throwing frustration…

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency BBC America

…then you’re gonna need to see Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, created by BBC America, where season one is on Hulu and season two will be coming to Netflix for viewers outside the United States on January 5th.

The setup

If you answered yes to being a Douglas Adams fan, then you’re probably familiar with the two Dirk Gently books he wrote, about a detective that wanders around while clues to his case (and these are weird cases with science fiction/fantasy elements) just drop into his lap.

This isn’t those books.

Rather it’s more the spirit of those books. Weird, random (but never arbitrary) seemingly unrelated occurrences. Characters move from one jam to another while the pieces fall into place.  This is the spirit of the TV show, and it works extremely well. It works so well that the description of the first half of the first episode spoils absolutely nothing.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency BBC America Elijah Wood

It opens on a crime scene in a hotel penthouse where the murder weapon was clearly something never before wielded by a human being. It continues with bellhop Todd seeing somebody that looks just like him while he’s having the worst day possible, and Todd’s day ends with affable Brit Dirk Gently breaking into Todd’s second floor apartment through the window and announcing Todd is now his assistant.  So given all that, the viewer still doesn’t know: Who was in the penthouse room? What was the murder weapon? Who did Todd really see? Why did Dirk come in through Todd’s window in particular?

But that’s just some of the plot. As for why this is worth watching:

It’s good from the start.
As a personal aside, I hate recommendations that start with “give it a few episodes and it gets good”, which immediately makes me consider the attractive alternative of “maybe I just save my four hours in case your judgment sucks?”

Here there’s no slow start, no “pilot episode is weak because it has to introduce everyone in an awkward and expository way”. Nope. Here there’s nothing to explain because this show hits the ground running and nobody knows what’s going on. Not the audience, not the characters. If you’re not interested in this show halfway through the first episode, then it’s fair to say you probably won’t care for the rest of it. You can drop it knowing you gave it a fair chance.

It’s funny.
Okay, not joke-every-30-seconds sitcom funny, but it has a light tone and manages to take full comedic advantage of the sometimes dark and usually surreal situations the characters find themselves in, even though they may not be amused by it at the time.  The violence (as there are some very bad people doing very bad things) leans towards cartoonish and is just gory enough to make the point. It’s certainly not as dark as shows like Lost, or Dark, and is closer in tone to some of the lighter X-Files episodes, or the British TV series Red Dwarf.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency BBC America

This show pays it off.
At the end of the first season all the questions raised around the primary mystery are answered. There’s no wasted viewing with plot threads that don’t resolve or go nowhere. Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t still questions about the characters’ backstories, and indeed, that does set up season two, but there’s an explanation for the vast majority of really weird stuff you’ve been watching for the last eight hours, and I know for sure it’s eight, because this show does really reward binging.

Everything is connected.
Once you realize this, you’ll be looking at everything wondering: is this a clue? And the answer is, of course it is. The stray dog. The missing daughter. The thing that destroyed the penthouse. The government guys in the van outside. The punks in the other van outside that jump out and break stuff. The woman tied up in the apartment upstairs. The holistic assassin (victims just drop into her lap), and the zoned-out cultists chasing everybody around? It all makes perfect sense. Eventually.

The characters are offbeat, but believable.
They’re weird enough to be interesting, but not weird enough to be annoying.  For example, Dirk has an oddly positive outlook on life, but can recognize real danger, Todd is a slacker jerk that’s starting to realize he should be doing better, and as for the holistic assassin, well it’s unclear if she’s doing the universe’s bidding, or just out on a murder spree, but either way it certainly explains her lack of social skills.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency BBC America Samuel Barnett

The characters roll with it.
Typically, when confronted with magic/monsters/super technology, a character will either act totally familiar with it, or completely freak out. Rarely do you see the middle ground where they’re disturbed by what they encounter, yet have to roll with it anyway. Take the traditional zombie outbreak: it’s either “Gerald is fine!” or “Shoot Gerald in the head!” and rarely “Gerald is looking super messed up, and I’m grabbing a weapon on my way outta here!”

It’s refreshing to see characters take that middle ground.

So with all that in mind, if life is feeling too predictable, and you’d like to watch a show where your most outrageous, improbable guess as to what’s going on is just as good as anybody else’s, you really need to take a look at Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

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