BBC America already has one wacky British time traveler on its schedule, but with all of time and space at your disposal, there’s surely room for one more. Enter “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” a completely bonkers series based on the novels by Douglas Adams.
Created by Max Landis, the series is a sci-fi mystery with comedic sensibility and a helluva lot of storylines. Like the 2012 TV adaptation before it, “Dirk Gently” dispenses with the book’s plot — which some have proclaimed unfilmable — in favor of an original mystery. Landis’ version also dispenses with all of the book’s characters save for the titular detective himself.
IndieWire spoke to showrunner Robert C. Cooper (“Stargate SG-1,” “Stargate Atlantis”) about creating an entirely new “Dirk Gently” adventure.
“Certainly I think it was always a challenge in adapting something like a Douglas Adams’ book, but for us it was a matter of finding a way of being true to the offbeat absurdity of his work and still grounded in some world and some reality that would make it identifiable,” Cooper said. “All the way along we knew it would be different and unlike anything else on television, which is always risky and could be different-bad or different-good. You never know how people are going to respond to something that kind of walks that line.”
“Dirk Gently” is no common show, and Cooper was good enough to help IndieWire cut through the chaos and navigate us into a holistic world where everything is connected.
Bettina Strauss/BBC America
What You Know: This is Douglas Adams’ second-most popular series that he wrote after “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
What You Don’t Know: Adams wrote for the long-running sci-fi series “Doctor Who,” and the “Dirk Gently” books were based on a “Doctor Who” serial that never made it to air. In it, a Cambridge professor that has lived centuries was revealed to be a TimeLord with an early model TARDIS.
How It’s All Connected: Although Professor Chronotis’ Gallifreyan origins and the TARDIS were eliminated, “Dirk Gently” still contains Whovian hallmarks like time travel, aliens and historical figures. It also highlights elements of Adams’ university experience, including having a sofa permanently stuck in a stairwell as a failed attempt at moving furniture. Although BBC America’s “Dirk” is an entirely new adventure, there are little Easter eggs in the show for fans of the books.
What You Know: Max Landis created the new series
What You Don’t Know: British producer Arvind Ethan David was the one who had bought the rights to “Dirk Gently” after having first adapted it into a high school stage play, which Adams actually attended. The play eventually evolved and was performed internationally. After Adams’ death, a tribute performance was put on at the Unicorn Theatre in which a sofa was wedged into a stairwell, which forced audience members to climb over it.
How It’s All Connected: “[David] then brought it to Max Landis, and Max, who also was a huge fan of the work took it on, and I was kind of brought in a little later in the game,” Cooper said. “Max has already written the two scripts and had outlined quite a bit. The network had already bought the show and turned to me and said, ‘We need you to help try and make this work for television.’ So I sat down with Max and was really trying to be true to his vision and his interpretation. We wanted the story to not be driven by plot. I mean there is an incredibly complicated plot at the center of it, this mystery, but solving the mystery is not the point of watching the show.”
Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett)
What You Know: Dirk is a holistic detective, whatever that means. He also appears to be British and have a penchant for bright-colored leather jackets.
What You Don’t Know: Dirk is able to harness the holistic concept of interconnectedness. “It’s really just the idea that the universe has a plan or that there is an order to the universe and that something you do today may affect you down the line or something somebody else does on the other side of the world can affect you,” Cooper explained. “It’s just the idea that somehow coincidences maybe aren’t such coincidences and that the connections between events and things that happen to you may not be quite so obvious to you. That’s one of Dirk’s special magic powers in fact is to be able to see how things connect to each other in unexpected ways.””
How It’s All Connected: “It was important to create a guy that was mysterious that seemed to have this odd ability to be drawn into problems or situations that were thrilling and exciting and deadly and that he was even in many cases very incapable of getting himself out of,” Cooper said. “We wanted to visually distinguish him [with the jacket].. It suits his personality that on one level he wants to look like a private detective, but in his mind, his version of what a private detective looks like is just so wrong and off. And I think that’s the concept for him as a character is that he has this desire to want to be something but is going about it all the wrong ways.” He gets help of sorts from Todd. Watch their first meeting below:
Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood)
What You Know: Hey, isn’t that Frodo the “Lord of the Rings” hobbit?
What You Don’t Know: Todd is Dirk’s reluctant
companion assistant who used to be in a band. When you first meet him, he’s a bit of a a sad sack, a loser with no money and a dead-end job at a nearby hotel.
How It’s All Connected: “Todd is actually quite capable. He’s just got personality issues. He’s got a backstory of darkness that will come out during the course of the season,” said Cooper. “He just made a series of bad decisions, but he’s able to do things that Dirk is not able to do. Dirk is socially awkward and not all that capable. Todd is actually much more of an action hero in waiting. This adventure that Dirk takes him on brings that all out.”
Watch the trailer to get a hint of the shenanigans coming Todd’s way:
What You Know: Yes, as illogical as that trailer made it sound, it’s true: Dirk was hired by the victim of a murder. So technically, his client is dead.
What You Don’t Know: The crime scene is a mess — not only does it include the corpse of millionaire Patrick Spring (Dirk’s client), but also various other dismembered guards, bloody handprints, burned bits and what look to be giant bite marks throughout the penthouse hotel suite. Cooper said, “Even the CSI guys in the show don’t know what to make of it. It seems as though the victims were attacked by what looks like an animal, a shark.” Land shark?!
How It’s All Connected: Todd is the bellman who found the penthouse carnage.
What You Know: You know there’s time travel on the show since its origins are rooted in “Doctor Who.” (A+ for paying attention earlier!)
What You Don’t Know: Rest assured that there is a time machine somewhere in the series but it’s not introduced right away like the TARDIS or Delorean. Besides, Wood has said that Todd “sees himself” in the pilot and he’s not talking about in a mirror.
How It’s All Connected: “The mystery involves a very complicated time travel element,” said Cooper. “Sometimes time travel is not that easy to crack. In fact, having done it many times on ‘Stargate,’ I kind of vowed I wouldn’t do it again just because it’s such a brain twister, but in this case, I felt like that wasn’t the DNA of the show. Having somebody who has my production experience coupled with the fact that I’ve dealt with these types of stories before made it a little easier for me to jump in. The production challenges for this show were quite unique.”
Bart and Ken (Fiona Dourif, Mpho Koaho)
What You Know: There are a lot of people in that trailer, so…
What You Don’t Know: Bart is the woman, whose voice you can hear saying, “Can I kill him now?” Ken somehow gets involved with her bloody mission.
How It’s All Connected: “Ken is a little like Todd in some ways in that he’s our normal guy,” Cooper said. “He’s certainly the most grounded version of the two characters. He gets kidnapped by Bart in the pilot. She is in some ways the parallel but opposite of Dirk in that she’s our holistic assassin who seems to operate in some ways similarly to Dirk but instead of trying to solve mysteries and help people, she kills them. People with these unusual abilities are somehow the agents of some higher power.” (Also, Dourif is the daughter of actor Brad Dourif, who played Wormtongue in “Lord of the Rings.” Hey, it’s all connected with hobbits too!)
What You Know: You spotted Richard Schiff in the trailer, right?
What You Don’t Know: Zimmerfield (Schiff) and Estevez (Neil Brown, Jr.) are not homicide detectives, but work for Missing Persons instead.
How It’s All Connected: They’re looking for Lydia Spring, the missing daughter of the dead millionaire Patrick Spring.
Amanda (Hannah Marks)
What You Know: She keeps playing the damn drums in the trailer.
What You Don’t Know: “Amanda has a disease called pararibulitis,” said Cooper. “It’s a [fictional] disease that causes hallucinations that make her feel like she’s in physical pain as a result of those hallucinations.
How It’s All Connected: Amanda is Todd’s sister.
Farah (Jade Eschete)
What You Know: The word “bodyguard” flashed over her character in the trailer.
What You Don’t Know: Farah is Patrick Spring’s head of security, but he died, so where was she?
How It’s All Connected: Lydia Spring is still out there somewhere.
What You Know: There are a zillion other people in that trailer so you couldn’t keep track of them all, but the corgi and kitten stood out.
What You Don’t Know: The corgi is played by Bentley the Poor Corgi Actor. “Our trainer brought this guy in and he was kind of a little younger, a little smaller,” Cooper said. “He was sort of at the right age where they thought they could train him. He seemed very bright and actually got quite a bit better as the show over the few months that we shot. So by the end he actually doing some of the things we wanted him to do on camera.” As for the kitten, the show had to use a series of different kittens because they outgrew the role too quickly for production.
How It’s All Connected: The kitten was at the crime scene, and Todd notices the corgi one day while going to and from work.
“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” premieres on Saturday, Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on BBC America.