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"Dirk Gently" DVD Review

Dirk Gently U.S. DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Dirk Gently: The Complete Series (2010-12)
Season & DVD Details

Creator: Howard Overman (series); Douglas Adams (books) / Writers: Howard Overman, Matt Jones, Jamie Mathieson / Directors: Tom Shankland, Damon Thomas / Producer: Chris Carey

Regular Cast: Stephen Mangan (Dirk Gently), Darren Boyd (Richard MacDuff), Helen Baxendale (Susan Harmison), Jason Watkins (Detective Inspector Gilks), Lisa Jackson (Janice Pearce)

Notable Guest Stars: Doreen Mantle (Ruth Jordan), Anthony Howell (Gordon Way), Miles Richardson (Doctor T. Gerstenberger), Billy Boyle (Harry Jordan), Elliot Sutherland (Tom), Miranda Raison (Kate Edwards), Cosima Shaw (Emma Reynolds), Paul Ritter (Oliver Reynolds), Colin McFarlane (Terence Brown), Kenneth Collard (Matthew), Bill Paterson (Professor Charles Jericho), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Dr. Emelda Ransome), Lydia Wilson (Jane), Andrew Leung (Noel), Will Sharpe (David Cho), Tim J. Henley (Fish & Chip Proprietor), Bethan Hanks (Elaine Robot), Lisa Dillon (Melinda Fulstone), Tony Pitts (Robbie Glover), Tina Maskell (The Cleaner)

Running Time: 239 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
UK Airdates: December 16, 2010 - March 19, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99/ DVD Release Date: April 2, 2013
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy Dirk Gently on DVD from Amazon.com

Douglas Adams didn't live to see his best-selling novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy adapted into a major motion picture, but he was around for it being tapped in just about every other way imaginable, including computer games, a BBC television series, comic books, four sequel novels, and even a series of towels.
Adams' few works outside of that beloved science fiction comedy universe have not inspired quite the same degree of fervor. However, his 1987 novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and its 1989 sequel became the basis of a 2007 radio series and, then a few years later, a BBC Four television series.

Consisting of a 2010 pilot and three episodes that aired in March 2012, "Dirk Gently" would be considered remarkably short-lived by American television standards. By the British model, its run was briefer than intended, but not terribly unusual.

As its hour-long episodes suggest, "Dirk Gently" is a legitimate detective mystery series, albeit one with the humorous tone you expect of Adams. Holding the title role is Stephen Mangan, an actor perhaps best known to American viewers as one of the leads of Showtime's "Episodes" with Matt LeBlanc (although I find it impossible not to primarily associate him with an unforgettable guest appearance on "I'm Alan Partridge"). The central tenet of Gently's "holistic detective agency" is that life forms a web of interconnected events. In Gently's mind, there are no coincidences and every occurrence, no matter how random, seems to tie into another. It's a loony philosophy and one that seems certain to fail, only it doesn't as the hapless Gently somehow stumbles into unlikely solutions for his every case.

Stephen Mangan plays Dirk Gently, a "holistic" detective who solves mysteries with a web of interconnected events.

Despite his unorthodox genius,
Gently is something of a joke, as his invoices never get paid and he still travels in the barely functioning 1977 Austin Princess he drove in college. Joining Gently at his agency as assistant/partner is Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd), an old friend from university who features in the pilot episode's mystery.

With its comic tone, the show resembles Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes movies. In other ways, it plays closer to a standard procedural British mystery series, as it casually dispenses clues whose importance will eventually become known.

As a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide (sacrilegiously, the movie more than anything else), British comedy, and leading man Mangan, I expected a little more than what "Dirk Gently" delivers. The comedy is forced at times and rarely as sharp as it could and should be. You see jokes coming in advance, which always diminishes their returns. While the writing, cast, and characters lend themselves to a charming atmosphere of constant amusement, we must settle instead for light diversion. On the plus side, it's fast moving and the largely original plotting shows creativity in the interconnected webs it weaves. Befitting Adams, the series includes some science, a touch of science fiction, flabbergasting automation, and a few jabs at faith.

Admittedly, my view of the series differs from those comprising the majority of its native audience. They will be more accustomed to mystery shows and presumably better versed in Adams' writings. If anything, that might raise their hopes and lower their expectations. According to a BBC Four spokesperson, "Dirk Gently" didn't get a second series because "the freeze on the license fee led to reduced drama budget for the channel." The decline from 943,000 pilot viewers to under 600,000 by the final episode probably didn't help its case. Though Mangan has found a steady American gig in "Episodes" (which will soon start shooting its third season), he was disappointed he couldn't take this show and its frugal, slovenly antihero any further.

In the UK, this series hit DVD the week after its final episode aired. One year later and still not broadcast here, Acorn Media brings the show in its entirety to Region 1 in a two-disc DVD.

The pilot episode's mysteries inspire Dirk Gently to produce this seemingly chaotic web of interconnected events. Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd) ponder the nature of an unexpected parcel in Episode 1.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (1:01:07) (Originally aired December 16, 2010)
The search for an old woman's missing cat overlaps with a warehouse explosion, a possible love triangle between a man believed dead and Dirk's old friends from university, Richard and his girlfriend (Helen Baxendale, "Friends"), and the events of December 5, 1994.

2. Episode 1 (59:36) (Originally aired March 5, 2012)
After a paranoid client turns up dead, Dirk and Richard investigate and believe their lives are in danger. Meanwhile, they also simultaneously work for a woman suspecting her husband of infidelity and the husband who's convinced that his online horoscopes are strikingly accurate.

While dodging police at the university from which he was expelled, Dirk (Stephen Mangan) makes a friend (Lydia Wilson) with a taste for salt and vinegar potato chips. Clashes with DI Gilks (Jason Watkins) are a regular occurrence for Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan).

Disc 2

3. Episode 2 (59:04) (Originally aired March 12, 2012)
After Dirk is hired as security consultant by the alma mater that expelled him, his mentor is murdered and a valuable robotic girl goes missing. Also, a young woman (Lydia Wilson) takes romantic interest in Dirk.

4. Episode 3 (59:41) (Originally aired March 19, 2012)
Police are concerned and suspicious when several of Dirk's clients begin turning up dead. His latest client, meanwhile, hires him to catch a stalker that in reality is him.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"Dirk Gently" is treated to fine picture and sound on DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is clean and adequately defined, while not showing any evidence of being shot in a foreign format. The Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is similarly untroubled yet unremarkable. Yellow English SDH subtitles are an appreciated touch.

The Dirk Gently DVD may not have bonus features, but it does have scene index menus... ...and episode synopses.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Nary a bonus feature is included here,
which is a little surprising and unfortunate, but then ITV's DVD in the UK was similarly no-frills.

Disc 1 opens with a two-minute trailer promoting the various TV series distributed by Acorn Media plus ads for "Murdoch Mysteries" and "Terry Pratchett's Going Postal."

While the main menu only attaches score to a simple reformatting of the cover art, each episode generously gets its own menu, complete with scene index and a descriptive synopsis.

The two discs claim opposite sides of a black Eco-Box keepcase that's topped by a cardboard slipcover and holds an insert advertising Acorn's free-to-try streaming service.

Though the exact nature of the working relationship is in question, Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan) and Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd) are certainly a team of holistic crime-solvers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Dirk Gently" is a light and moderately enjoyable entry to the long tradition of British detective series. Though easy to watch, you'll often want either the mystery to be more engrossing or the comedy to be funnier. It's plenty fine as it is, though, in its short but agreeable run. Acorn Media slaps a hefty price tag on a four-hour DVD with no bonus features. American viewers, however, seem to have no legal alternative way to see the show.

Buy Dirk Gently on DVD at Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 23, 2013.



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