In my first A-level English Lit class, Miss Pitt – whose make-up resembled fine-grain Polyfilla and who must, I now realise, have been wearing a curly clown wig – wanted to know what we were currently reading. I don’t remember what the rest said – stuff that garnered nods and even the odd frosty smile or two, like Marilyn French and DH Lawrence.
I was eaten up with nerves – I hated speaking in class and didn’t know anyone. When she turned to me I forgot to say “W Somerset Maughan” (which was a bit true) and told the truth: I was deep into the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galazy ‘trilogy’ by Douglas Adams.
Miss Pitt sucked in her roughed cheeks and curled her glossy lip. “Oh Joanne,” she sneered.
Yeah, well, chez on you Pitt. Douglas Adams is now universally recognised as a visionary and a genius, still inspiring books, films and TV shows today (you can’t say that for Marilyn French).
My proof – Netflix’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
I read the Dirk Gently books when they came out, enjoyed them but never felt tempted to revisit. All I can remember now is stuff about a horse in an attic, a sofa on some stairs and an Apple Mac.
The Netflix series may draw its inspiration from Adams’s detective, but it has – probably wisely – run with plots and characters of its own. And they are brilliant.
Goofy Dirk Gently believes in ‘the interconnectedness of all things’. He’s also a bit psychic and a lot geeky. In series 1 he hooks up with loser bellhop Todd Brotzman (played by Elijah Wood, the only actor in the whole thing I remember coming across before). Todd has a sister called Amanda, who suffers from a weird condition where she has hallucinations that feel real. Dirk has a whole load of baggage from his time in a CIA-spinoff called Blackwing.
Blackwing is a facility where Dirk and various other weirdos were brought together. Most of these weirdos are now rampaging around America, murdering people in a holistic way, pretending to be squeezy toys or driving around in a van drinking other people’s emotions. There is a LOT going on, and the best thing to do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.
The plots are madcap capers, but they do come together, even if they fry your brain. Expect body-snatching, time travel, alternate realities, magic wands that do real magic, people with pink hair, giant scissors for swords and human dogs.
The thing that lets a lot of these seasons down – too much dull relationship stuff – doesn’t spoil Dirk Gently. Todd and Amanda fall out big time, but this helps drive the plot; Todd being Dirk’s first and only friend could teeter into yukkiness but hasn’t (yet).
Instead, we have so many Technicolour characters it is difficult to pick a favourite. Bart Curlish, a holistic psychopath, is hard to top, but there is also cool-and-hard-with-a-vulnerable-edge Farah Black, thick as brick with a gun Hugo Friedkin, the incredible Rowdy 3, turncoat Ken…
Series 2 featured less Bart than I would have liked, but it did introduce decent new characters, like nice Sheriff Sherlock Hobbs, tripped out Tina Tevetino and fairytale strange girl with rainbow hair (called The Beast, I have no idea why).
Dirk Gently also wins with the number of funny, evil, clever and strong female characters it features, scoring a nice balance even though the two main characters are men.
It is bright, quirky, witty and violent. DH Lawrence it ain’t.
Things I think about when I try and match up three dozen pairs of black socks
- Is that Bart’s real hair or an actual bird nest made of the stuff that comes out when you take out the vacuum cleaner filters?
- Amanda’s eyeliner = a work of art.
- That boat in a field in series 2 – what was all that about? Where did it come from?
- And I’ve forgotten what happened to the kitten-shark in series 1. Hope it’s ok.
- The missing person cops in series 1 – they were good. Killing them, that was a shame.
- Lux Dujour – why has no-one called their band that yet?
- I don’t trust Farah’s brother.