Detectorists

One of the best things to come my way out of my Britbox subscription is a sitcom called The Detectorists.

I clicked on the thumbnail originally because I thought it was a detective show. Then when my wife and I were looking for something light-hearted to watch together, we gave it a shot. I mentioned it once before in one of my weekly (or at least, that was the idea) summary posts. Since then we’ve finished all three seasons (and the Christmas episode) and now I wish there were five more.

Mackenzie Crook created, wrote, directed and co-starred in all nineteen episodes, alongside Toby Jones. The two play two fairly ordinary English guys from northern Essex county who share a love of their favorite hobby: metal detecting. The series title is the proper name for such aficionados–when asked if they are “metal detectors,” they will refer to their equipment and say “This is a metal detector. We’re detectorists.”

Crook plays Andy Stone, an agency worker who eventually becomes an archeologist, but struggles to find work that he feels passionate about. He is in a loving but sometimes tempestuous relationship with Becky, played by Rachael Stirling (her mother is played in a handful of episodes by Stirling’s real-life mother, Diana Rigg). As the show progresses, the two get married and have a son, Stanley.

Meanwhile Tobey Jones is Lance Stater, a forklift driver who is still hung up on his ex-wife Maggie, a fact she constantly and selfishly takes advantage of. As his story progresses, he connects with his grown daughter and eventually develops a relationship with a woman from his work.

But much of the show is actually devoted to the men’s chosen hobby, as they roam various fields and pastures in their area, searching for the elusive treasures that the ground may hold. Usually their finds are limited to ring-pulls, bits of machinery and the odd old coin, but every once in a while there is something special to be found.

They share this activity with other enthusiasts from their local club, led by former police officer Terry Seymour (Gerald Horan), who is married to the non-detectorist but supportive Sheila (the hilarious Sophie Thompson–Miss Bates from the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma). However, they also have enemies, most notably a rival detectorists who they call Paul and Art because they resemble Simon & Garfunkel (they are played by Paul Casar and Simon Farnaby–Farnaby’s role is more prominent and he is excellent).

This series is beautifully (though simply) shot and favors character over “situations” to find its comedy. Jokes are often tossed around flippantly without real regard to as whether every one of them lands successfully, just like one finds in real conversations. The show is sweet without ever being syrupy, and the focus always remains on how Lance and Andy’s lives are unfolding. We laugh plenty along the way, but we’re not there just to laugh.

Each of the three seasons are six episodes long and each has an overarching story. The first series focuses heavily on the Lance and Andy’s relationships with Maggie and Becky, and the upheaval that comes when they are joined by local ancient history student Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards). In the second series, the group gets wrapped up in a search for crashed German wartime plane that may deeply personal connections to a new friend (or it may just have undiscovered Nazi gold), while Andy must contend with Becky’s increasing desire to spend a season in Africa for an extended project. In the last series, the land that Lance and Andy have been detecting on gets sold to be used for a solar farm, and the detectorists race to find a treasure that they are convinced is there before the land is unavailable to them.

Both Crook and Jones are great fun to watch. I’m used to Toby Jones just playing creeps (like in Sherlock, Doctor Who, Captain America or Jurassic World) so it’s cool to see him as someone who is overall very likable–he really is an amazingly expressive actor. The show also has a very nice theme song that fits its tone very well–Dectectorists by Johnny Flynn.

The series ends on a positive and upbeat note that like I said, made me wish there was more to come. It’s one of the most enjoyable series I have seen, and one of the most genuinely uplifting television experiences that I can remember.

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