|Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd star in Dirk Gently, on BBC Four|
Adapting beloved literary characters to television is a risky business. Often, though, it is a risk well worth taking, as in Steven Moffat’s sublime variation on the classic Conan Doyle characters and stories in Sherlock, which recently aired its second season. This year, the BBC tries its hand at another generation’s literary hero: Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently. The TV version of Dirk Gently first saw the light of day as a 60-minute test pilot that aired in December 2010. Commissioned for a three-part series a few months later, the first new episode premiered on BBC Four on March 5 and its third and last episode aired just this past Monday. With Gently, the result is less explosive than with Sherlock, but then again, the show is working with a smaller palette (smaller budget, and a half hour less screen time per episode – a Gently episode is 60 minutes, while Sherlock episodes run 90) and a much more restricted canon. On the other hand, Moffat was hardly the first to adapt the great detective, and Dirk Gently hasn’t (yet!) been immortalized as a puppet on Sesame Street. Adams’ fans have reason to be apprehensive, and when it comes to this new series, it is really a matter of balancing expectations.
Less of an adaptation of the wickedly funny novels than a new work inspired by the tone, themes, and characters of the two Dirk Gently novels – Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988), Douglas Adams’ follow-up to his immensely popular The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels – the new series follows the adventures of Dirk Gently (Stephen Mangan), part hapless private detective and part conman, and his put-upon sidekick, Richard MacDuff (Darren Boyd). The show’s creator, Howard Overman, clearly has no ambition to literally translate the novels to the small screen, and the series genuinely succeeds in capturing the spirit, if few of the details, of Adams’ stories.