Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
“Dirk Gently is tainted with controversy, but the writers clearly make an effort to be inclusive.”
Title: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Episodes Reviewed: Season 2
Creator: Max Landis 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Max Landis 👨🏼🇺🇸 (4 eps), Russel Friend 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), Garrett Lerner 👨🏼🇺🇸 (2 eps), and various (2 ♂ and 2 ♀, all white).
Reviewed by Carolyn Acosta 👩🏽🇺🇸
BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a fast-paced action detective show that starts with a complicated, sci-fi storyline and moves to high fantasy in its second season. A sense of chaos pervades, yet it’s that exactly that chaos that fans love so much: it asks its viewers to become sleuthers, to piece together the mystery before the titular character does. In the world of detective Dirk Gently, played by Samuel Barnett, the “fundamental interconnectedness of all things” extends to every facet of the show itself, making for a delightful puzzle.
True, this same attribute can turn people away. If you don’t enjoy working out and dissecting your entertainment, the show can become frustrating. For that reason, many critics on both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes agree that the show is better binge-watched. But regardless of its barriers to entry, Dirk Gently has gathered a large fan base. As the show hinges on cancellation, a petition to get the show renewed for a third season has over 100,000 signatures and counting.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
Dirk Gently prides itself on featuring strong and multidimensional women. Farah Black (Jade Eshete) acts as a caretaker of the bumbling messes that are Dirk and Todd (Elijah Wood). Although Farah and Todd have a will-they-won’t-they sort of relationship, it isn’t the basis or focus for her character. Farah spends most of Season 2 pursuing her dreams of going into law enforcement. As much as Dirk would like to say he is the brains of their detective agency, Farah is the only reason any of them manage to stay alive. Luckily, Farah isn’t just portrayed as an emotionless rock; she has her own eccentricities and anxieties. Whether it’s her rapid, awkward way of speaking or her low self-esteem, she exemplifies a well-rounded character who is both capable yet vulnerable.
Another main character is the adorkable Bart (Fiona Dourif), Dirk Gently’s “holistic” assassin. Bart bikes into the season wearing a big, pink tutu and saves the newly introduced Suzie (Amanda Walsh) from attempted murderers, despite being a fierce murderer herself who somehow manages to elicit empathy from viewers anyway. Perhaps it’s due to her childish demeanor and need for friendship and companionship, which make her violence seem almost cartoonish, and thus, harmless. The show even deems her a “QT3.14” (cutie pie). Unfortunately, while Bart is outrageously strong, her story in the second season orbits two men. She is on a quest to find her kidnapped friend Ken (Mpho Koaho) and ultimately ends up helping Panto (Christopher Russell), an otherworldly prince, along the way.
Saving the best for last, Season 2’s MVP and most improved is Amanda (Hannah Mark). The character development for Amanda is phenomenal. She goes from being an agoraphobic hermit with a crippling disease who can barely make it to the supermarket without help, to becoming a powerful witch who refuses to fall to her brother Todd’s manipulations. By the end of Season 2, she is the leader of the Rowdy 3, a group of anarchists who cause chaos but also who help those in need. In perfect counterpoint, Amanda embarks on an incredible journey as Todd and Dirk recede.
When talking about Dirk Gently, however, it would be remiss not to bring up the issue of Max Landis, the creator of the show and its most active writer across Seasons 1 and 2. Landis has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple people and has expressed degrading things about women. In an interview with Shelby Sells he brags about giving a girlfriend “crippling social anxiety, self-loathing, body dysmorphia, and an eating disorder.” The cast has attempted to distance themselves from the situation by helping raise money for a charity that focuses on mental health and LGBTQ teens, but unless Landis can be extricated from future seasons, his presence across the show is a social step backwards for women and lowers its Gender category score.
Season 2 of Dirk Gently takes place in the fictional town of Bergsberg, Montana, as well as the fantasy otherworld of Wendimoor. While there is a distinct lack of people of color in Bergsberg, the Census Bureau shows that of Montana was 87% white in 2015, making its portrayal relatively accurate. More importantly, the whiteness of Bergsberg is balanced by the diversity of Wendimoor, which includes a ruling family played by actors of Middle Eastern descent. Among them, Silas is played by Lee Majdoub, who is Lebanese. He is integral to the Wendimoor storyline, appearing in 6 of 10 episodes, and intersectional to boot as he searches for his boyfriend.
The rest of the non-white characters come largely from retained cast members, such as Farah, played by Jade Eshete who is a Brooklynite born to Guyanese and Ethiopian parents. As discussed above, Farah is deeply complex, even if her characterization largely ignores race. Ken is also a Season 1 holdover, played by Mpho Koaho who is Canadian born to South African parents. Ken, too, is delightfully complex as someone who lives in the moral grey zone. He does tiptoe the line of stereotype by being a criminal, initially starting the show as a hacker for the “bad guys.” But his weapons of trade are computers and logic, which helps his character veer back towards neutrality.
In supporting roles, two out of the six members of the Rowdy 3 are non-white: Gripps is played by Viv Leacock, who is black, and Voguel is played by Osric Chau, who was born to parents from Hong Kong and Malaysia. In Season 2, Voguel gets more and more screen time as he accompanies Amanda in her quest to conquer Wendimoor.
However, for its diverse and multidimensional cast of characters, Dirk Gently adamantly refuses to touch the topic of race. The characters never mention it, nor are their lives ever shown to be affected by it. This level of hiding from reality plays it all too safe, but by the same rights, it’s a bit more believable in a supernatural show and we do enjoy a fairly diverse cast across leading and supporting roles.
Fluid sexuality is woven throughout the world of Dirk Gently. In fact, Season 2 begins with a gay kiss, as the princes of Inglenook and Dengamor say goodbye. One of them, Panto, is a great character with pink hair, combat skills, and a mission to to unite the kingdoms of Wendimor. While the show does flirt with the “bury your gays” trope, wherein LGBTQ characters are never allowed happy endings, they sidestep any real issues after both princes are resurrected.
Meanwhile, Tina is a bisexual deputy sheriff in Bergsberg played by Izzie Steele. She progresses from being an incompetent drug addict to proving herself as a real asset by stopping the the plans of the Mage, a Season 2 villain played by John Hannah. Tina is out and proud. Her sexuality isn’t relegated to a one-line intro, either. In Season 2 Episode 5, several characters are enchanted by a love spell at a rave. Under its thrall, Tina happily exclaims “I want to fuck everybody here!” The scene cuts to Tina, Todd, Farah, and Dirk together, suggesting that’s exactly what happened as Bart, who was not under the spell, comments that everyone was “kissing” and “grabbing each other’s butts.”
Finally, none other than Dirk Gently himself is strongly hinted at being gay. The actor who plays him, Samuel Barnett, is an out gay man who has commented on Dirk’s ambiguous sexuality and expressed thoughts on exploring it in future seasons, if given the opportunity. Dirk’s sexuality is a question of interest to many characters, including Farah who says that she’s unsure about it when questioned by Tina. At the end of Season 2, Dirk says that Beast, a character played by Emily Tennant who spends most of the season calling Dirk her boyfriend, isn’t really “his thing.”
Amanda’s character suffers from the fictional disease of “pararibulitis.” As a non-disabled person, I looked to voices from the community to see if this was represented in a positive or negative way.
On the one hand, multiple writers call the depiction of “pararibulitis” as a great allegory for chronic and invisible illness. Bradley Jamison, a health advocate with multiple chronic conditions, writes:
“Amanda and I may not have the same illnesses, but when I see her struggles I think “Hey, that’s me.” And I’m sure if more people with chronic illness watched, they might finally think the same thing.”
Poet/author Heather Ashley, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, echoes Jamison’s sentiment, saying:
“I give the writers/creators of this show a lot of credit for creating a character who not only has a chronic illness, but also for portraying the terrible aspects of such a life so well.”
On the other hand, PhD student Kim Sauder, who has left side hemiplegic cerebral palsy and who is autistic, delves deeper into not just the depiction of disability, but the way it’s worked into the show. She takes issue with the “Disability as Punishment” trope of Season 1 and remains unenthusiastic about Amanda’s portrayal in Season 2, mentioning on Twitter that turning Amanda’s disability into a superpower is hardly the right way forward.
(Editor’s note: At Mediaversity, we are always happy to discuss and adjust our reviews as more perspectives come to light! To share your thoughts on disability in Dirk Gently, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Mediaversity Grade: B 4.13/5
While Dirk Gently is unfortunately tainted with controversy and isn’t the perfect beacon of diversity—particularly behind the scenes, with its all-white writer’s room—it clearly makes an effort to be inclusive and to write complex characters. There, they do succeed. Nearly all the characters are three-dimensional, and everyone gets the chance to shine in Dirk Gently.