A new breed of detective is coming to television this fall in "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency." Based on the Douglas Adams novels, this new BBC America series pitches audiences into a weird world of inexplicable murders, confounding gangs, curious characters galore, and Corgis.
Ahead of the show's New York Comic Con panel, CBR sat down with the creators and cast "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," including creator/executive producer Max Landis, executive producer Robert Cooper, and stars Samuel Barnett, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, Mpho Koaho and Fiona Dourif. (Regretabbly, co-star Elijah Wood was not in attendance.) In a pair of roundtable interviews, they revealed what exactly makes this genre-bending series so spectacular.
"Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" centers on Dirk (Barnett) and Todd (Wood), pitched together by fate to solve mysteries. Barnett mused about his character. "He's a holistic detective, so he has… some sort of connection to the universe where he sees messages which are interpreted to him as sort of intuitions and hunches. But the problem with Dirk is there's no thought behind it. He's pure instinct, so he's constantly acting on impulse, getting into trouble, absolutely leaping before he looks. He calls himself a detective, but he's a terrible detective. It's just the closest word he can find to interpret what he's trying to do, which is in some way use his so-called powers for good."
Marks, who plays Wood's onscreen sister Amanda, added, "It's like if Sherlock [Holmes] was terrible...like if he was horrible at his job," Marks nodded. "And then there was some magic, and some Corgis."
Of her own character, Marks, speaking of Amanda in the first person, shared, "I used to be a drummer in a punk band, before I got really sick with a disease called Pararibulitis, which is a (fictional) disease… It's a nerve disease, so it comes with hallucinations. I'm always hallucinating that I'm in life or death situations. Like in the first episode, I believe that I'm being stabbed to death with my drumsticks that turn into butcher knives. But it feels real because my nerves are firing off like crazy. So every single episode is really high stakes for me because I believe that I'm dying everywhere I go. I can't leave the house. I become agoraphobic because of it. So, I don't learn to leave the house until episode three."
Another character with some serious internal issues is Bart, played by Dourif. "Bart is a kind of lonely girl," the actress began, but was cut off by Landis' surprised howl of laughter.
"Those are words I'd never think to use!" He marveled. "Bart is a lonely girl?" He offered instead, "Imagine if a hurricane was a person."
"That's how I see her," Dourif shrugged with a smile, "She's a lonely girl who happened to be born as the Delete key of the universe." Switching to character first person, she went on, "It's my calling to kill people. And I'm killing them because they are supposed to be killed. It's like a tornado. It's not my fault I have to do it. And it's very lonely. And that's how I think of Bart."
She was also quick to commend Landis for the shaping of her character, saying, "Also hats off to the creators of the show, I play a female character who is totally unsexualized in every way. And I've never read that before. It's not even an issue that (Bart's) not sexualized. She's just not. It just doesn't come up."
Thankfully for Bart, she finds a friend in a hacker named Ken. Black Canadian ingendude Koaho expressed during the show's panel how he was thrilled to play a character not defined by race or racial stereotypes. In the roundtables, he described Ken as "the best hacker who's ever lived." Adding, "I feel like Ken is a bit of a hermit, so to speak. Little bit of a recluse. Kind of keeps to himself a lot, you know? He probably still lives with his Mommy. I referenced the never having kissed a girl thing. And then he meets a crazy woman named Bart, who completely changes his existence from being this weak guy…and allows him to become more than that, a full person that's seeing more of the world, and interacting with more people and might even commit a murder one day."
Last but not least, Eshete plays Farah Black, who first called Gently to America in hopes of protecting her boss, Patrick Spring. "Farah is a tactical genius badass bodyguard," Eshete grinned. "She basically makes sure that Dirk and Todd don't die. They get into some pretty ridiculous situations. Farah is amazing at what she does. She will take down assailants twice her size in two seconds. She's incredibly competent and amazing at what she does. She's also a little OCD, a little neurotic. She comes down on herself really hard. She can be a perfectionist. There's some comedy in those moments. There's some sad times in those moments. So she runs the gamut."
So too does the show. Eshete explained, "You can't categorize it into a specific genre. You've got your comedy. You've got your drama, science-fiction, supernatural --"
"And violence!" Barnett interjected, "It's really violent."
"And violence!" Eshete agreed. "It's got a lot of blood. I think that's one of the great things about it. It doesn't fit inside a box."
"It's definitely genre-bending," Barnett agreed.
Marks concluded, "I think it's the only show that's not only a detective show, but also a cop show, but also a family-drama. It's also a broad comedy. It's also like 'Harry Potter.' There's also several animals in lead roles. What other show is like that?"
Well, BBC America's venture isn't actually the first adaptation of Adams' adored Gently novels. Asked how he hopes to improve on the 2012 "Dirk Gently" that lasted only four episodes, Landis responded, "I wasn't interested in improving upon what the Stephen Mangan series did. I'm not the kind of guy who looks at something and goes, 'I could have done that better.' Once you've actually been through the process on these things, you know how hard and complicated it is."
"My problem with that show," Landis continued, "If I could choose a problem and a thing I wanted to do differently, was that is wasn't "Dirk Gently." It was something more like "Psych" or "Monk." It was a quirky detective show. "Dirk Gently" is an insane science-fiction novel. "Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" is an insane science-fiction/fantasy novel. The quirky detective element happens because the main character is a psychic who can see connections that no one else see, and covers this with a lie about being about able to follow interconnectedness. It's a made up thing. He's psychic. This is not something we added. This is the books. In that show, they just had a guy with a bunch of strings, 'See this is how everything is connected.' But it's not. Everything's not connected, only he can see that. So our goal was to do something a little truer to the genre of the books than the previous show, not an improvement, just something more different and closer to the books."
Landis knows Adams' fans have high expectations for the show. But he's not afraid. In fact, he's amping up the hype, comparing "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" to some hugely beloved properties.
“It’s kind of like if The Big Lebowski was written by Douglas Adams," Landis declared, "On its best day I’d say it’s that, and even on its worst day, it’s like if "Inherent Vice"(s detective) was Doctor Who. That’s the tone. That’s the vibe; those are the references I’ve stuck to. It’s structured like Game of Thrones, where you’re following an incredible amount of disparate characters. Dirk and Todd are the main characters of the show, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that by episode five. Bart and Ken get a lot of time on their own.”
Fascinated by this comparison, Koaho asked who Bart and Ken would be in this "Game of Thrones" analogy. Dourif and Landis responded in unision: The Wall. "Winter is coming, dude!" Landis laughed, "I would say (Ken is) Jon Snow, and she's the White Walkers."
Well, consider that a mic dropped.
“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” premieres Saturday, October 22 on BBC America.