[NYCC 2017] Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency from BBC America

The 12th New York Comic Con has come and gone and along with it the tons of stuff that went on throughout the four day convention. By all accounts this was the largest attended NYCC surpassing the 200,000 attendee mark. The show held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan is a celebration of all things pop culture. The east coasts biggest con continues to grow leaps and bounds, with a completely packed Jacob K. Javits center to all their offsite venues, which included the likes of the Hudson Mercantile, The Hammerstein Ballroom, and the Theater at Madison Square Garden. More than any other year the amount of offsite events also grew with plenty of parties (E-Coin, American Gods to name a few) and activations (Artemis, Westworld, Cloak and Dagger).

Outside of the show floor panels play an equally important part of any convention. While there are many panels held at the convention the one that caught my eye this year was BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

A quirky show, the first season saw Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood) get pulled into a murder of millionaire Patrick Spring at the hotel where he works as a bellhop. Once he becomes a person of interest he meets Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), a holistic detective who through his belief that “Everything is Connected” pulls Todd in as his sidekick. Todd and Dirk are joined by Farah  (Jade Eshete) who is searching for Patrick Spring’s daughter Lydia whose soul has been swapped with a corgi. Meanwhile Dirk is being hunted by Bart (Fiona Dourif) a holistic assassin who has kidnapped Ken (Mpho Koaho) a hapless electrician and Todd is trying to care for his sister Amanda (Hannah Marks) who suffers from Pararibulitis, a fictional illness causing her to suffer vivid and painful hallucinations. With a mixing of time travel, body swapping, quirky characters, and emotion vampires the first season can seem to pull people in a hundred directions but manages to tie everything together in a satisfying season finale. Everything is after all connected.

The second season which premiered on October 14 on BBC America takes a new route adding a bit of fantasy to the mix. While some characters have been detained by the government organization Blackwing the dangers lurking in the fantasy realm navigate a path to Earth, becoming a threat in reality and it’s up to Dirk to stop them. After a few misfires, Dirk steadily finds his footing on the new case to “find The Boy”, and with the help of his friends, makes the necessary connections to solve the mystery before it’s too late. Season two also sees the addition of Alan Tudyk (Mr. Priest), John Hannah (The Mage), and Amanda Walsh as Suzie Boreton.

Right after the panel where the entire first episode was screened Hi-Def Ninja was able to sit down with the cast of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency to talk to them about the show and its second season.  On hand were stars Samuel Barnett (Dirk Gently), Elijah Wood (Todd), Hannah Marks (Amanda), Jade Eshete (Farah), Mpho Koaho (Ken), Fiona Dourif (Bart) and creator Max Landis.

Hannah Marks (Amanda) and Jade Eshete (Farah)
Images Courtesy BBC America

Q: How has your character evolved from Season One

JE: You can see in Season One she is not really a fan of how Dirk lets the universe guide him. He uses no real detective skills or clues to solve the case whereas in Season Two Farah is kind of on board with it. She gets the whole everything is connected thing. She has evolved a respect for it and lets Dirk do his thing.

HM: For me in the first season my character was just a scared girl stuck in her house not knowing what to do…In the second season I’ve become the leader of the Rowdy 3 for these energy vampires and total badasses and the fact that I got to turn a 180 in only one season was a great joy.

Q to HM: How do you tackle overcoming your ailment that consumed you in Season One to putting yourself in danger in Season Two going from one sense of danger to a new sense of danger to find the Rowdy 3?

HM: Amanda is trying to find her family because she doesn’t consider her brother to be her family anymore. So its trying to recover from the pain of losing her brother and they are her new family and put herself in danger. The characters do what’s hard despite of it.

Mpho Koaho (Ken) and Fiona Dourif (Bart)Images Courtesy BBC America

Q: What can you tell us about how your characters will interact in Season Two

MK: Well everything is connected.

FD: Ken is my driving force of all things. All I want to do is to find my best friend Ken again. So Ken is at the root of all the adventure that Bart gets into and it’s a lot of little twists.

Q to FD: Bart has a shift in her approach. She is becoming more emphatic and even though the universe tells her to kill everyone she is fighting it. How will that help or hinder her in her search for Ken?

FD: She is trying to strike a deal. Saying, alright I am not going to do everything you tell me to universe. I am a pawn in your game; if you don’t give me my best friend I am not going to be your puppet.

MK: Our characters are growing.

Q: How do you think your characters influenced each other?

MK: I really felt like Bart really helped Ken. I don’t need to grow a pair but just be less scared all the time. Ken does not have that many friends so having a consistent friend, somebody that consistently is looking out for him and caring for him I really feel like not only helped him get through the first season but I really feel like helped him this season. Especially them being apart. I don’t know how much Ken has had in his life that has mattered that much but I feel like Bart has become that thing that matters.

FD: It’s a testament to Max Landis that I think that there a lot of sci-fi, a lot stuff happening, a lot of plot, but the emotional themes in Dirk Gently are well thought out and I think Season One was about loneliness and both of our characters were extremely lonely and found companionship and the same thing happened to Todd and Farah and Dirk. And then Season Two is about self control so it’s like trying to control your circumstances even though the universe or life operate that way.

Q: What are you most excited to see for your characters?

FD: There is a shot in the finale of a scene that is the most beautiful, strange, bosh like image which I have ever seen on camera and I got to be in it but I was very shocked by what they were able to shoot and I think its beautiful.

MK: Excitement, maybe just Ken coming into his own would excite me. Getting to project more strength, not having to cower all the time. Ken is progressing, he is not scared to go to the washroom by himself anymore and just coming out of that excites me and knowing what I’ve shot and where he goes I’m very excited for people to see that. I hope they receive it as I not want them too but Ken is doing some good and Bart is that influence.

FD: I think where Season One was kind of creating this mystery and then you progressively found out what was going on Season Two is much more linear. So you know why people are doing the things they are doing and then the mystery presents itself and answers why. I think it is going to be easier to watch it week by week than Season One was.

MK: The actors we brought in. The John Hanna’s, the Alan Tudyk’s, the Roger Cross’, Tyler Labine. I was such a fan of seeing everyone brought in it was a treat to watch. It really was. For me personally seeing Tyler and Izzie [Steele]…really you are going to love what comes from everybody you know of already and then you are really going to dig everybody brand new. Each new character will give you that satisfaction.

Max Landis (Creator)
Images Courtesy BBC America

Q: Do you find the show therapeutic for you at all?

ML: Yes! OMG Yes! Writing is incredibly therapeutic. I’m a very stressed out guy. I relate to the characters on the show…. When I first wrote the script for Bright that script was very grounded about cops and this is the one show where I sort of just go like screw it I’m going all in I’m playing with every toy there’s all the colors of the rainbow and I want to touch every single one in the show so it is incredibly therapeutic.

Q: It seems there are all these formulas, do you think of that when writing?

ML: Constantly. Everything in Dirk is an attack on formula. I still use formulas and there are secret formulas in my stuff that I do subconsciously. There are repeating themes in my work if you look but a lot of them are deliberate subversion and that element of being deliberately subversive and attacking tropes especially have a lead cast of characters who are not equipped to deal with what they are dealing with and who fail with dealing with it constantly. Dirk and Todd and even the incredibly capable Farah Black and now the activated Amanda Brotzman or the unstoppable killing machine Bart, they fail constantly to keep up with the dangerous world around them and writing that allows you to do that. It causes subversion’s even if you don’t mean to because if I go into it assuming everything has to be hard everything has to cause them struggle it makes subversion cause no one is a badass. The only badass on the show is this pink haired gay prince from another dimension, that dude’s a badass.

Q: Do you believe in a multiverse for the characters, where different character actions can cause different results?

ML: The whole string theory and subsequent thought experiments around multiple realities I find extremely frustrating and there was no real way to weaponize that with fiction and Rick and Morty did it brilliantly so that is not the sort of thing I enjoy, I feel like in order for stakes to exist you need to say that this is the world and this is the world we care about and these are the people. Rick and Morty does a cool thing where it just refuses to give a f*ck and its unlimited budget because it is animation. Its ability to take you anywhere and show anything is very useful  for that but for me I just want the show to exist in this world. There is a secret truth of the series which is that every problem in the show stems back to one person making one decision, the mysteries are not involved in it but a decision – I do like dominoes in story telling and I do like well if this person had not done this how would things be different and there is that.

ML on Dirk as a character: You talk about the law enforcement presence on the show and in the first season you have urban police detectives, you have the CIA, and you had Blackwing. This season we have small town sheriff’s department and an activated Blackwing as well as a more regimented government as represented by Farah’s brother Ed and you’ll see how he fits into and out of the season but he is a character who will become more important in the mythology of the show. What’s fun is coming at it from a small town way this season because Dirk Gently is not a detective. He is pushing people to engage in the narrative Dirk Gently puts forward which is ‘I am a detective’ – He is not a detective. He’s just some guy who is connected to the fabric of reality. He is only a detective in the loosest sense of the word and the whole idea of him being a detective is a coping mechanism for a not psychic bur certainly a supernatural preponderance. He is the convergence of a lot of things even though he himself can’t do this, so he would never – could never be a cop, he never could be a secret agent because he talks too much and is not useful, He can’t solve crimes he can only solve weird problems with reality.

Q: Can you talk about the decision to make the villain for season two a bro soldier character.

ML: You’re talking about Friedkin…Friedkin is just trying to do a good job. Don’t hate him. He is trying to do a good job. He is in charge of the government thing. [In Friedkin voice] They gave him all this stuff  but none of it makes sense. He’s just doing the best he can man and everyone is being a jerk! Why doesn’t like this Dirk Gently guy – they say that he is psychic – so why doesn’t he do it man. And this guy is in a coma. And the vampire guys just like to yell and break stuff like. What does this dog even do? OK so in the file I read a part where it said like the dog was a ghost but now its just a dog so we gotta keep it but like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. Man when I worked at Wendy’s everything was way more simple and then I did one job under the CIA and suddenly everyone’s like BUHHHH you can’t just shoot people BUHHH I’m like no I can it said in the thing. And they’re like what thing… And I’m like I don’t know. Stop asking me questions. …

One of the problems with Dirk is that in the writers room…the best way to write for characters who are this sort of out there is once you start paging it it gets real long and you start feeling the need to make the characters tell jokes. So in the writers room we do stuff where you just do an impression of the character responding and its funny because…I go like OOOH good cause if you do Dirk I could do Todd back to you can start doing it really organically.

At this point Elijah Wood was getting impatient to start his interview with us and interjected himself into Max’s response

Samuel Barnett and Elijah Wood interjecting themselves into our Max Landis interview

EW: I’m fascinated. I was just listening

ML (continuing) but one of the big problems is that once you start doing Dirk and once you start pontificating and once you start deliberately using the source words in order to disinvest yourself from the stakes of the situation which is Dirk’s main coping mechanism you get very into that and you getting monologues for Dirk that are half a page long.

SB: OH more than half a page.

ML: More than half a page

EW: I’ve had my fair share of those too

ML: Cause you get excited about it!

SB: I think I’ve had a six pager explaining the mystery of each episode.

Samuel Barnett (Dirk Gently) and Elijah Wood (Todd)
Images Courtesy BBC America

Q: Have you seen more reaction now the Dirk Gently is on Hulu and Netflix?

EW: After SDCC is when it was on Hulu for the first time and it was the full first season and people could watch it all in one go and immediately there was more attention of it. Yes, definitely. I even ran into people who were like ‘Oh My God I just saw that show.’ Like did you watch it on Hulu and they’re like yeah. Wow that actually made a huge difference for people to discover it.

SB: And the way we are watching TV is changing obviously but what I think is really is back in the UK we are still watching shows where you see an episode per week and we absolutely love that and people who want to do that you can see it on BBC America and then you can also binge watch it on BBC America, or Netflix, or Hulu. So I think it is really nice that the choice is there to be able to capture it weekly because I think it is a really exciting show that usually ends with a cliffhanger at the end of every episode.

EW: It’s a very binge worthy show in the sense that especially the first season is so confusing, intentionally so, that I think it would have been very helpful for people to watch that in one go.

Q: Season One wrapped up very nicely and you seem to be going in a good direction. Can you tell us how long that nice little peace lasts before you are thrown into another adventure?

SB: Well at the end of Season One we are fragmented in that I get kidnapped BUT you are right there is a breath that gets taken at the end of Season One where we are sitting in the diner and we all get to go ‘Yes! We started our agency’ and then it goes wrong immediately. What’s nice is we enter episode one of Season Two and we figure out where everyone is, you can’t work out how but you know they are all going to be drawn back together in a really nice way and its nice I think. I was watching episode one and going ‘oh its weird that they are separated, I want them to be together that’s really satisfying when Dirk and Todd and Farah are actually finally meet.’ And then you have a second of it being like yay we’re all together and then it all goes wrong.

EW: Yeah, there’s not much of break is there. There’s like a little moment in episode two where you’re like OH this is OH.

Q: Are there certain countries that are more responsive to the show than others?

EW: Well apparently Russia.

SB: Russia, Brazil.

EW: Yeah.

SB: Huge social media response from there on both Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. That’s where a lot of the comments come from… What amazed me was someone got in touch on twitter and was like I play the Italian version of you. I dub your voice into Italian. And I was like of course there are 192 territories for Netflix for example that are able to show this show and you’re like oh we’re in many different languages. It’s incredible.

Q: What do you think it is about the show that has a universal appeal that everyone seems connected to?

EW: I think it’s ultimately as much as it’s a mystery based show and an exploration of different genres. Which it definitely is, it’s sort of sci-fi and action and comedy. It’s all sorts of things kind of wrapped up into one that I think there are so many references there that people can enjoy that are so universal but essentially it is about humans. It’s about people. The core of the storytelling is not necessarily resting its hat on the fun of the mystery, if you sort of took that out of it you are left with a series of characters who I think are very human and interesting.

SB: Very flawed and you are watching their relationships and that is endlessly fascinating.

EW: Yeah and I think that is what is I hope is the draw and what I think makes it a little more universal.

Q: Dirk believes in that Everything is Connected and what is meant to happen will happen and the case comes to him which led him to Todd in Season One but Dirk did not have a lot of friends. How would Dirk be affected if a case brings him to a  new person?

SB: I think Dirk what affects him is realizing that once you’ve got friends the possibility is that you might lose them or they might get hurt and for him he knows that every single choice he makes seems to land him or his friends in mortal danger so it gives him a real existential crisis about even working the way that he does. He desperately wants to just become a normal boring detective but the universe is not going to allow him to do that.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Season Two premieres Saturday, October 14, 9/8c on BBC AMERICA. Season one is available to binge on Hulu.

About the author

Media Journalist | Michael loves all things Pop Culture. He has an opinion about everything, whether you ask for it or not. Michael collects Convention Exclusives, Legos, Prints, Steelbooks, Transformers, and everything in between.