Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency began as a book (or two) by Douglas Adams. Not as well known as the Hitchhiker’s series, which I think is a shame. They have the same absurd humour, but with tighter, cleverer plots. Dirk Gently, a detective who refuses to ‘eliminate the impossible,’ solves crimes by looking for connections between seemingly unconnected events and objects. Against all likelihood (and despite his seeming incompetence), he succeeds in unravelling a supernatural mystery and foiling whoever was threatening the world. If I did have a complaint about the book, it’s that it took me too long to get the resolution in The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. I felt that too much was implied. (That could just be me being slow, of course.)
While the books came first, they weren’t my first experience of Dirk Gently. I discovered the BBC radio adaptation first. They are very good adaptations, keeping the plot, the characters, the humour, even added a couple of audio gags that made me burst out laughing. There are a few places where they cut a few lines from the dialogue, but leave the rest of the dialogue as it is, which can make for a slightly confusing conversation. On the other hand, listening to the radio show for the second book helped me make sense of the ending.
I put off watching the TV ‘adaptation’ of Dirk Gently for the longest time, because I was afraid. It was easy to tell that they weren’t really prioritising loyalty to the books, and I am the kind of person who can hate shows based solely on that factor. However, when I finally did watch it I found myself pleasantly surprised. Not because it was loyal – it’s a completely different beast. The show references the book, but the plot, characters and setting are all completely different. I’d argue that Dirk Gently is a different character here – in the book, he’d never go through bouts of insecurity the way he does in the show.
What the TV show does right is stay true to the core and spirit of the books. The outlandish and absurd elements are things both Dirk Gentlys would take in their stride. The plots also reflect what I loved most about the books – the way seemingly random and unconnected events would come together to make a coherent solution.
In the end, an adaptation does not need to be slavishly loyal to its original. If it can capture the emotions that the original inspired, I think it’s done a pretty good job.