Max Lan­dis talks about adapt­ing Dou­glas Adams’s Dirk Gen­tly’s Holis­tic De­tec­tive Agency

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents -

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?

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