Max Landis talks about adapting Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The US reboot is here.
“i have too much respect for Douglas Adams to try to do some bullshit, half-assed version of one of his books,” declares Max Landis, writer of the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle, and American Ultra. “You would have to lose stuff and there isn’t anything you could lose without hurting it and changing what it is.”
These are reassuring words from Landis given that he’s also creator of a new BBC
America series named after Adams’s 1987 novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s unsurprising that he holds Adams in such high esteem, though, because it was the second Dirk Gently novel that got him hooked on the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
“Oh my god, I’ll never forget,” Landis tells Red Alert. “I was at summer camp when I was 13 and it had a little library of books. You could take them out and they were all messed up. One of the only books that was less messed up was The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul and when I read it I couldn’t tell from minute to minute what was going to happen next.”
Factor in Gently’s mantra that all things are fundamentally interconnected and Landis looks like the inevitable choice to script a TV show about Adams’s supernatural sleuth. After all, he’s part of the creative team behind the Dirk Gently comic books published by IDW, which shares the TV rights with Ideate Media. Ideate’s Head of Production, meanwhile, is Arvind Ethan David, writer of IDW’s Dirk Gently titles The Salmon Of Doubt – which is what Adams’s unfinished third Gently novel was called – and A Spoon Too Short. “Arvind is probably the biggest Dirk Gently fan there is,” says Landis. “He thought of me when the rights to the show came up and I immediately said, ‘Yes.’”
Notwithstanding the pedigree of the people involved, however, this new interpretation might surprise fans who know the books inside out. “Whereas all of the previous incarnations have been perfectly happy to simply adapt the characters and the story, I’m not content to do that,” says Landis. “This is meant to be a new entry in the Douglas Adams ephemera.”
The incarnations that Landis refers to are two BBC radio series starring Harry Enfield as Dirk Gently and a short-lived BBC Four series with Stephen Mangan in the title role. All of these were well received. Nonetheless, the BBC’s last attempt to put Gently on TV didn’t satisfy Landis. “No shitting on it, but the area where it kind of failed for me was that it ultimately didn’t commit to how insane the books are,” Landis admits. “It settled with being a sort of quirky detective show but if you read the books, that’s not what Dirk Gently is.”
Landis, along with showrunner Robert Cooper (Stargate), has tackled this by taking an Adams-like wild swing at something new. “One hundred per cent all I set out to do was to impart those exact qualities because adapting the books was impossible,” he reveals. “Adapting the feel and the tone is something I believed in myself to do and I think that the thing that our show does to great success is that you never know where it’s going to go next.”
With his exaggerated quiff, IDW’s Gently is trendier than Adams’s bespectacled one. The comics also relocate him from England to America. Landis has taken a similar route with the new series, casting British actor Samuel Barnett (Penny Dreadful) as Gently alongside Elijah Wood, and setting the series in Seattle. Landis believes that Gently fans will buy his approach because they’ll agree that there was no other way. “I feel like most people who love Dirk Gently would be relieved that we didn’t try to do the real story because I certainly love Dirk Gently and I know, just in my experience in TV, that trying to tell that story is almost impossible,” Landis explains.
In describing the eight-part series, Landis jokes, “It’s like The Big Lebowski or Inherent Vice collided with Doctor Who.” He’s reluctant to be more specific, however. “All of the things I would reveal here would be spoilers,” he insists. Still, he suggests that while we won’t see Thor or The Electric Monk, Adams’s influence will be evident throughout.
“You’re introduced to a bunch of characters in a bunch of locations with very little information ever about how they might later connect and because this is Douglas Adams, the ways they connect have no rules,” Landis teases. “You can go as crazy and convoluted and ridiculous as you want as long as you still have fun.”
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency comes to UK Netflix in December. It’s currently airing on BBC America in the US.
It’s like The Big Lebowski or Inherent Vice collided with Doctor Who
Show creator Max Landis is a lifelong fan of Adams’s books. Wait a minute, we thought the short-sleeves-over-longsleeves trend had passed?