Wednesday, 21 March 2012

DIRK GENTLY, 1.3 – episode three

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The last episode of Dirk Gently returned to the show's default style, compared to last week's sci-fi/fantasy indulgence, and I have to admit that disappointed me. I don't mind this show being a crazy detective drama with oddball ideas up its sleeve, but it needs more inventive weirdness to keep me totally engaged, or it just feels rather half-baked. This episode had a lukewarm-Sherlock feel throughout, although I adored the scene where Macduff (Darren Boyd) let Dirk (Stephen Mangan) know exactly what the state of their relationship is with a brilliantly-delivered speech in their office. It was perhaps the first time Macduff came across as a three-dimensional character in his own right, and in general Tom Mathieson's script did very good things with the central duo's interactions. I also really liked Gilks (Jason Watkins), the local detective who can't stand Dirk, and could hardly believe this wasn't  Gilks' first appearance on the show.

This week's story sounded more compelling than it actually was on-screen, with Dirk the prime suspect after his ex-clients started to turn up dead. It was the work of an assassin trying to frame the holistic detective, but who and why? Along the way there was also a gun-toting Polish cleaner, another brief romance for Dirk with client Melina Fulstone (Lisa Dillon), and a handful of funny moments and amusing lines. And yet, none of it inspired more than sixty-minutes of half-interesting entertainment and hi-jinks. I wasn't gripped, excited, nor particularly bothered about Dirk solving the case. (Not for the first time, either.)

So it's been a curious three weeks for BBC4's Dirk Gently. I'm glad it exists because the ingredients are there for something special (in Douglas Adams' core idea and Howard Overman's Sherlock-y adaptation), and Mangan/Boyd are great assets to have around, but it's lacking that indefinable spark. I'd say the budget is a slight issue, although that didn't affect last week's adventure, so ultimately I think the writers just haven't quite gotten the mix right. It just needs to be funnier, quicker, sharper, with more emphasis on Dirk and Macduff's friendship/antagonism. The stories also need to be tightened, although the hour-long timeslot is a hindrance I keep mentioning. Why not make these into half-hour shows, sort of like a British Monk? Or split each case into two parts to extent the show's run from three to six weeks?

Last week's episode and, to a lesser extent, the original pilot from 2010, were both good enough to convince me Dirk Gently just needs some time to find itself. Hopefully the BBC will commission more and Overman will take a good hard look at what's working, and what's not. For me, I just want this show to get more creative and make me really care about the people and the week's investigation, which episode 2 proved is certainly possible.

What did you think of this finale, and Dirk Gently in general? Is it already giving you a lot of silly pleasure, or do you agree it has problems that aren't beyond fixing?

written by Tom Mathieson / directed by Tom Shankland / 19 March 2012 / BBC Four