It’s always tempting to grade Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on a curve. Should it be judged on its own, or as an adaptation? The show does not seem to be designed to appeal to fans of the Douglas Adams series, in that it resembles that series in no way at all beyond the name of its titular detective. Gone is the uniquely British sensibility of the book, the shabby, pessimistic vibe of Dirk’s whole persona, the wry humor of Adams’ writing. In its place is a show that’s been fed through some of the worst impulses in American filmmaking.
How could you transfer a Douglas Adams book to America? This is a question that hangs over the entirety of the show, through its hyperactive violence and corresponding body count, the presence of a shadowy all-powerful American government agency, and its reliance on the everyman hero with an intensely competent love interest trope. Even the theme song seems designed to provoke, its shrieking chorus hanging over the opening of every episode. The entire thing is an all-out attack on the senses, with vibrant, popping colors, extremes of emotion, and most of its actors tilting their performances up past the 11 side of the dial. The tone veers from whimsy to alienating in the span of a single scene.
This doesn’t mean the show is without charms. It has a vivid visual style, from Dirk’s bright, primary colored jackets to some truly beautiful frames of filmmaking. And there’s a cockeyed worldbuilding going on, which in season two expands to include a fantasy world straight out of Dungeons & Dragons and new characters, such as a bored small-town sheriff who wants to help Dirk solve crimes holistically and a put-upon wife and mother who suddenly finds herself gifted with godlike powers.
And also, if you like all the aforementioned tropes, you’re probably enjoying the show despite its deep un-Dirkness. There’s a reason those types of things have taken over pop culture in the last decade, and the new season hasn’t changed too much from the prior season, with the minor, and welcome, update that a lot more of these characters like each other now. Todd is more accepting of Dirk’s presence in his life, and he and Dirk and Farah meet some people who actually don’t seem to want to kill them.
There’s also a welcome run of character actors popping up on the show, including Alan Tudyk playing… well, an Alan Tudyk part, and Tyler Labine, of Reaper fame, appearing as a sheriff, as well as the great British character actor John Hannah swinging by in a more mysterious part. Also, the corgi is back. No sign of the kitten, though.
The first two episodes released to critics suggest a variety of mysteries for the show’s collection of misfits to resolve. The aggressively foolish Friedkin is back, and trying to figure out what to do with the various mystically talented individuals he’s trapped. Amanda is trying to find the rest of the Rowdy Three, which involves her having a lot more agency than she did in season one. And Todd, Farah, and Dirk find themselves wrapped up in a murder mystery.
The question of whether Todd and Amanda can reconcile and have an honest, open relationship as adult siblings lends a degree of potential poignancy to the proceedings. Todd has always been defined by his efforts to lie to and protect his sister from the world and her illness, and there’s at least a possibility that there’s some deeper emotional connection possible for the two of them now that he’s not lying to her, and he understands what her illness has been like. Whether the show will slow down from its frenetic hopscotching between plot points long enough for this to happen is another question. But the single best improvement of the new season is the fact that there’s a deeper emotional connection between its leads. Even Bart is pining for the missing Ken.
The question of whether or not Dirk Gently succeeds as a show for you is unlikely to change with this new season. It remains the frustrating, creative, eccentric show it’s always been. Anyone who’s taken a side in the great Max Landis pop-culture divide will find ample ammunition here—you can either be annoyed by the show lacking any sort of subtlety whatsoever and embracing every fanboy flourish, or you can be one of those fanboys (or girls) yourself. Questions about why this is the adaptation of a beloved British property that BBC America chose to go with are, ultimately, beside the point by now. Much like Dirk himself, you’ll just have to accept that the whims of the universe have selected this course forward.