Oddball detective shows have been going strong for over a decade, but none have included a paranormal element.
The title character inDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a new series premiering on BBC America this Saturday at 9 p.m., solves cases by tapping into the universe — but not in a strictly useful way.
“He’s not psychic, but he receives messages which are interpreted to him as intuitions and hunches,” says series star Samuel Barnett during an interview at New York Comic Con with the cast and production team. “But the problem is it’s all pure instinct, so he’s constantly acting on impulse, getting into trouble, absolutely leaping before he looks.”
To actually solve crimes Gently is joined by a reluctant sidekick (Elijah Wood); a hyper-competent but neurotic bodyguard (Jade Eshete); and a girl with a supernatural disease (Hannah Marks). Further complicating things is an assassin — also guided by the whims of the universe — who has made Gently her next target (Fiona Dourif).
“I can honestly say I haven’t seen anything like this on TV before,” says Barnett. “The world we’re in is a very grounded world in which extraordinary things happen.”
His co-star Hannah Marks, whose character Amanda Brotzman struggles with a supernatural illness, sums it up even more succinctly: “If Sherlock was horrible at his job, and then there was some magic and some corgis.”
Though based on “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” author Douglas Adams’ novels, “Dirk Gently” takes place in the real world. It’s been adapted before, both as a radio drama and a 2010 series, but this time the BBC brought onboard 31-year-old American writer/producer Max Landis, best known for the Kristen Stewart-Jesse Eisenberg stoner thriller “American Ultra.”
The series kicks off with the murder of a millionaire, and adds psychic vampires, a cult leader and a winning lottery ticket. Then things get really strange.
“A thing I wanted to do differently [from the 2010 series] was that it wasn’t ‘Dirk Gently’ — it was something more like ‘Psych,’ it was something more like ‘Monk,’ it was like a quirky detective show,” says Landis. “‘Dirk Gently’ is an insane science fiction novel.”
Keeping things from going off the rails is Executive Producer Rob Cooper, a veteran of all three “Stargate” TV series who knows what makes a larger-than-life TV show work.
“It’s a danger in Douglas Adams’ work that you can go off the rails, and it was very important to all of us that we create characters that felt very real even as they have these very strange things come into our lives,” he says. “This collection of characters, as odd and occasionally murderous as they are, are people you’d want to hang out with.”