Dirk Gently series 2 starring Stephen Mangan PREVIEW

Chaos reigns with Dirk and Macduff. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC Four, starts Monday, 5 March, 9pm

Story: It seems a bit mad to try to sum up the plot, but it begins with Dirk receiving a hate Valentine’s card, and proceeds to a paranoid client – who fears the Pentagon is trying to kill him – turning up dead. It is rounded off with Dirk being asked by a wife to investigate her adulterous husband, who also employs the sleuths to find out why his horoscopes are coming true. How are these random cases interconnected? Just watch…

Random mysteries are about to collide as holistic detective Dirk Gently returns for three new investigations. ‘Embrace the chaos,’ as the unorthodox sleuth says – and for those viewers who can, this second helping of Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide) Adams’s creation is totally logical.

Scary (unpaid) receptionist Janice (Lisa Jackson)

Stephen Mangan’s take on the rather dodgy and egocentric private eye was unveiled by the Beeb in 2010, so there’s been quite a lag between adventures. Since then Mangan’s been seen in the  laughter-lite sitcom Episodes with Matt LeBlanc, which, surprisingly, has been recommissioned.

Trust to randomness and chaos
Dirk Gently is a more modest show that still provides plenty of grin-inducing moments, without rupturing the laughter muscles. Mangan, who’s proved expert in playing chancers since he hit the limelight in Green Wing, and Darren Boyd, as his assistant/partner Macduff, are a good pairing as the bickering sleuths who veer between incompetence and genius in solving cases for usually non-paying clients.

Laughing policemen – cop shows with a twist of humour
  • Castle – amateur sleuthing and flirting between a detective and a novelist: C5 from Wed, 7 March
  • A Touch of Cloth – Charlie Brooker’s spoof starring John Hannah, Suranne Jones: Sky 1, April

There’s something reassuring about a series that takes the detective genre staples – a conspiracy theory and adulterous husband in this opener – along with life’s problems and treats them as offshoots of sod’s law. ‘Trust to randomness and chaos to solve the case,’ says Dirk to Macduff, who replies at one point, ‘Bollocks.’

Jilted wife Emma (Cosima Shaw)

The brown Austin Princess
So, crime fans who love to unravel a teasing plot should look elsewhere for other series that have more reasonable storylines (no, not Midsomer Murders).

You watch Dirk Gently to marvel at his brown Austin Princess, the crazed whimsy of his deductions and the silliness of Howard Overman’s script. ‘He has less chance of being murdered than you or I,’ says Dirk of their ‘paranoid’ client, as he and Macduff walk in to find the man’s corpse.

Helen Baxendale
Macduff’s level-headed girlfriend, Susan (Helen Baxendale), is not in episode one, but she features in the next story, which should stir things nicely.

Cast: Stephen Mangan Dirk, Darren Boyd Macduff, Jason Watkins DI Gilks, Lisa Jackson Janice, Paul Ritter Oliver, Cosima Shaw Emma, Ken Collard Matthew, Colin McFarlane Terrence, Miranda Raison Kate

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Dirk Gently PREVIEW

Digging the Dirk: MacDuff, Gently and Susan (Pics: BBC/ITV Studios)

Rating ★★★½
BBC Four, Thursday, 16 December, 9pm

It’s easy to have low expectations for a new comedy adaptation, particularly from as distinctive and cultish a writer as Douglas Adams, who can be deadened by a flat treatment (2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, anyone?). Nothing fails like a keenly awaited comedy that leaves your face resembling an Easter Island statue throughout.

Happily, the Beeb’s new Dirk Gently will have most viewers’ laughing gear moving in the right directions. It’s succinct at one-hour long, has a fine cast and is a good production all round, with a jaunty Sixties-tinged, crime-movie score.

Helen Baxendale and Stephen Mangan
Stephen Mangan as Dirk recaptures the oddball verve he showed in the excellent Green Wing. He’s the detective who thinks all evidence is interconnected, that ‘every particle in the universe affects every other particle’. Mangan switches easily between shifty and charmingly eccentric.

Helen Baxendale is attractive and fun as Susan, who feels Dirk’s holistic theories are ‘crap’. And Darren Boyd is suitably gormless and questioning as Susan’s boyfriend and Dirk’s sidekick, MacDuff.

Dirk is actually a mini-universe of chaos all on his own. He has a fridge delivered to his office because he is in a ‘cold-war stand-off’ with his cleaner, who has padlocked the one at home. He pays a schoolboy 200 cheap cigarettes to do a bit of computer hacking for him.

Douglas Adams’s far-out humour
Broke, manipulative and driving a 30-year-old yuk-brown Austin Princess, his first client is an old lady, Mrs Jordan (a wonderfully dithering and malevolent Doreen Mantle), who wants him to find her Henry – ‘He’s all I have.’

Henry, of course, is a cat, and the start of Dirk’s attempt to pull together seemingly incoherent pieces of evidence, including the factory that he and MacDuff escape from before it blows up and Susan’s ‘affair’ with missing ex-boyfriend Gordon.

There are some nice sight gags, but most of all Adams’s absurd, imaginative humour comes through nicely as the conventions of crime fiction are playfully tweaked (much credit should go to writer and Bafta-winner Howard Overman). Where Sherlock Holmes deduces, Dirk Gently reduces the universe’s chaos to a unified theory of guilt.

Great fun.

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