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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Sheridan Smith in Mrs Biggs, Marton Csokas as Falcon

Danny Mays, Charmian and Sheridan Smith. Pic: ITV

Mrs Biggs, ITV1
• Sheridan Smith has been cast as Charmian Biggs in ITV1’s new five-parter Mrs Biggs, about the wife of train robber Ronnie. Danny Mays will play the lad with a criminal record who wooed her – where else! – on a train. The couple struggled to stay together when her family did not like Biggs, and the tough times continued when Ronnie got involved in 1963’s Great Train Robbery. He became a fugitive in Australia with Charmian and their children in tow, before he had to flee to Brazil. Sheridan has been recently been winning awards on the London stage for Legally Blonde and Flare Path, while recently on TV she was in Little Crackers and Gavin and Stacey. She said, ‘When I received the call to say that I’d got this job I burst into tears. Charmian is an incredible woman, and I’m so lucky that she’ll be on hand to support me and give me advice during the shoot. I hope that I can do her story justice.’ An award-winning writer, Jeff Pope (Appropriate Adult, See No Evil: the Moors Murders), has been developing Mrs Biggs for four years.

Falcón, Sky Atlantic
More casting news – Marton Csokas, best known as Elven Lord Celeborn in Lord of the Rings, will play the title role of Javier Falcón in Sky Atlantic’s first two-parter based on Robert Wilson’s bestselling detective novels. Two two-parters about the Seville police inspector are in the pipeline, ‘The Blind Man of Seville’ and ‘The Silent and the Damned’. Emilia Fox, Hayley Atwell and Bernard Hill will all appear in the first one. Perhaps Falcón , who is described as ‘an innately sexual and charismatic character’, can step into the gap left by the sadly axed Zen.

Stephen Mangan and Darren Boyd. Pic: BBC

Dirk Gently, BBC4
Dirk Gently, aka actor Stephen Mangan, will soon return to holistically solved some more crimes on BBC4. Darren Boyd will be at his side as partner Richard Macduff, along with Helen Baxendale as Macduff’s girlfriend Susan. In episode one of this new three-part series, Dirk discovers the connection between two unrelated cases – a client who believes the Pentagon are trying to kill him and another whose horoscopes appear to be coming true.

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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