Think the title of BBC America’s new comedy-drama-crime-fantasy show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is long and insane-sounding? That’s nothing compared to the length — and unhingedness — of the show’s roll call of characters.
“There’s a real equality and diversity in the cast and in all of the characters,” says British actor Samuel Barnett, who plays the titular detective. “They could all of them be in their own TV show — and then they interconnect.”
Below, Barnett and Dirk Gently writer/executive producer Max Landis offer a guide to some (although, for spoiler reasons, not all) of the characters featured on the show, a loose adaptation of the late Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently novels premiering Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.
DIRK GENTLY (Samuel Barnett), HOLISTIC DETECTIVE
SAMUEL BARNETT: Dirk Gently is a holistic detective, which means he believes in the interconnectedness of all things. He’s sort of psychic — but not. His powers don’t really help him. He’s no good at interpreting any of these messages that he receives. He’s trying to use these so-called powers for good, but keeps on getting himself in a complete state. So, he needs people around him. It’s why he needs a detective agency. For me, he’s the antithesis of Sherlock. Sherlock is all intellect, and brain, and has his mind palace. And Dirk’s got his emotional neuroses cottage.
MAX LANDIS: He has heart, and hunches, and nothing else.
BARNETT: He’s brilliantly stupid and stupidly brilliant.
TODD BROTZMAN (Elijah Wood), DIRK’S RELUCTANT SIDEKICK
BARNETT: Ooh, we love Todd!
LANDIS: He’s an allergic reaction to Watson. He was me looking at the companions to these brilliant figures and seeing ultimately, God bless them, they’re great and compelling in their stories, but uncompelling, milquetoast figures, who stand next to someone great, who says amazing dialog, and [the companions] say, “Oh, what a great time I’m having on this wild adventure!” Todd doesn’t want to be on the adventure, he’s annoyed by the great dialog, he has no real emotional interest in solving the mystery, and yet he is a person who, like all of us, is searching for meaning. The thing that is central to the theme of this show is meaning, and the idea that, in a world of chaos, there is, just maybe, just maybe, a plan, and that, if you hang around with this annoying guy [Dirk] enough, you’re going to start seeing edges of the plan.
AMANDA BROTZMAN (Hannah Marks), TODD’S SISTER
LANDIS: Amanda’s two things. In theory, she’s the woman in peril. She’s this sickly, diminutive figure. She’s that for the pilot, and then her encounter with Dirk, and just something Dirk says, reawakens who Amanda really is, which is this sort of riot grrrl who wanted to be in a punk rock band and start a zine and have a f—ing life that got totally derailed [by illness]. Whereas you might expect a character like this would be to some degree a hostage of the plot — repeatedly put in danger and hung over Todd’s head — Amanda instead goes off on her own storyline that separates and diverges and reconnects to Todd’s story, completely not as a consequence of his actions. She has her own thing! And she needs it. Because she’s a wild, out-there, intense girl who has a wild, out-there, intense time.
BARNETT: One of the things I think is brilliant in this is that none of the women in the show are sex objects. They’re not plot devices. They’re not maidens to be rescued. They’re in danger like any of the characters are in danger.
FARAH BLACK (Jade Eshete), SECURITY OFFICER
LANDIS: She’s the action lead. Dirk is sort of the intuition and the guide, Todd is sort of the legs, but Farah is the fists of the group. She’s physically dominant, she’s imposing, she’s extremely weird, and neurotic. She has a very anxious, intense energy that’s hard to interact with, especially for someone like Dirk, who can’t read social cues, and just thinks Farah seems charming. It was funny because that character is really the third lead of the show, but in the pilot she’s just tied to a bed, talking to herself. We would audition actresses, and I would have to be in the room saying, “No, you’re the third lead of the show. I know you don’t do much in the pilot, but you’re very important…”
BARNETT: “Yeah, once you get free…”
LANDIS: “Once you get free of that bed!” I wanted to have the toughest, and most physically-dominant character be the cheesecake-noir-girl handcuffed to the bed, only to reveal that she f—ing can beat the s— out of literally anyone.
BART CURLISH (Fiona Dourif), HOLISTIC ASSASSIN
BARNETT: Bartine Curlish is her full name. She’s self-descrIbed as a holistic assassin. So, she is led in the universe to kill whoever she’s meant to kill next. As she says, she’s never killed the wrong person, but she has killed a lot of people. Her and Dirk are kind of two sides of the same coin. They are both driven by something very real and tangible to them that no one else in the world feels or gets. All the way through the season, whatever’s going on with Dirk, you have this presence of Bart just getting closer and closer and closer and closer. In the pilot she’s like, “I have to kill Dirk Gently!” You have that from the very beginning.
LANDIS: She’s the White Walkers. She’s coming! She’s relentlessly heading towards Dirk. Like Dirk, Bart is keyed into something. But, also like Dirk, as the series goes on, it will be revealed that, while initially it seems like she has a much clearer understanding of her purpose, Bart, too, can’t read the signs in front of her. It’s funny to say this, because she’s literally invincible, but to me, Bart is easily the most vulnerable character on the show.
KEN (Mpho Koaho), HACKER AND RELUCTANT ASSOCIATE OF BART
BARNETT: He is a criminal but he’s not intentionally a bad guy. His life gets turned upside down when he meets Bart. But he too is searching for meaning, searching for a purpose, and I think he starts to realize that his life might possibly have some meaning — that it’s not totally random. What I love about Bart and Ken is that it’s the weirdest relationship because Bart’s maybe always just on the edge of killing Ken, but is completely connecting with him as maybe the first friend she’s ever had.
ESTEVEZ AND ZIMMERFIELD (Neil Brown Jr., Richard Schiff), MISSING PERSON’S DETECTIVES
BARNETT: There are so many good characters in this show!
LANDIS: Estevez and Zimmerfield are detectives. They start out as reasonably straight-laced, missing persons detectives, chasing down a relatively straight-laced case. However, like everyone who intersects with Dirk Gently, and his tangle of fate and dimensionality in the universe, anyone who comes into Dirk’s path — and this is a rule for the show — will eventually end up either on his side, crazy, or dead, literally without exception. Literally without exception. And with no middle ground. And often a combination of all three. Two of the characters in the first season end up, in order, crazy, on his side, and then dead. It’s rough to be on this show when you’re not Dirk Gently.
COLONEL SCOTT RIGGINS AND SERGEANT HUGO FRIEDKIN (Miguel Sandoval, Dustin Milligan), MYSTERIOUS BLACK OPS-TYPE DUO
LANDIS: Riggins and Friedkin! Interesting characters. One of them, of course, being the brilliantly talented Miguel Sandoval and the other being a Max Landis veteran from [the Landis-directed] Me Him Her, Dustin Milligan. I say “veteran” because he still has the scars. Again, I don’t want to do spoilers here, but they appear to be agents of the government with some sort of connection to Dirk and potentially the Rowdy 3 [see below]. It appears that Riggins is severely underfunded, as the only person he could get was Friedkin. But he also doesn’t seem to have a very tight control over Friedkin. Within the first episode, Friedkin accidentally kills someone on his watch — granted, it was the right person at the time, but, yeah, I think Riggins might want to think about his choice of partner.
THE ROWDY 3 (Zak Santiago, Osric Chau, Viv Leacock, Michael Eklund), A QUARTET(!) OF VAMPIRES (!!!)
BARNETT: You take that!
LANDIS: Well, the less said the better. Anything you say about the Rowdy 3 is ultimately kind of a spoiler. Uh, the Rowdy 3 are four distinct personality types who function as one organism, to clearly do something. [Laughs] And they have been living that way for a very long time. If Dirk is the search button, and Bart is the delete key, the Rowdy 3 are just someone banging their hands on the keyboard and then banging the keyboard on their own face.
You can see a trailer for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency below.