When you read a well-crafted book, see a compelling movie, or in a few rare cases, watch a particularly special television series, you feel you have made friends. When you have read the last page, left the theater, or finished the last episode, you find yourself grieving that it is over, missing your friends, and regretting that you can never experience the work for the first time again. Detectorists is such a show.
The hauntingly beautiful theme song gives you some idea you are not wandering in on an ordinary Britcom:
Will you search through the lonely earth for me
Climb through the brier and bramble
I'll be your treasure
I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind
I knew the call of all the song birds
They sang all the wrong words
I'm waiting for you
I'm waiting for you
Will you swim through the briny sea for me
Roll along the ocean's floor
I'll be your treasure
I'm with the ghost of the men who can never sing again
There's a place, follow me
Where a love lost at sea
Is waiting for you
Is waiting for you
I have wanted to watch this series for a while now, even going to the library twice to try to get my complimentary Acorn license through the county system (I am cheap). Well, no dice, and lock down meant I should stop lollygagging and figure out how to make watching it happen. Detectorists just had Adrienne bait all over it--British comedy about weird hobbyists starring notable genre actors. OK, I’m in.
First is the title. Detetectorists takes its name from the preferred term of address for serious metal detector enthusiasts. The machine they remind us at a few points in the series, is a metal detector. Those who operate the machine are detectorists. You don’t call the person who takes pictures of your bones an x-ray after all. So this is the world we will be entering, one of sensitive, serious, specialized hobbyists.
My goodness: this series is spectacular. It is a delicate and finely wrought as the cloisonne pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard, crafted here with loving expertise by Mackenzie Crook--writer, director, and one of the leads. You know, Gareth offa The Office. This is a tiny slice of life comedy centered on Lance (Toby Jones), and Andy (Crook), who spend their spare time searching rural (and fictional) Danebury, Essex, England, with their state-of-the-art metal detectors. In a countryside where Saxon gold, Roman relics, Norman treasures, and World War II bombs wait just below the topsoil, this is a hobby with real hope of making important and lucrative finds. But mostly pull tops. So many pull tops.
Andy and Lance usually detect in tandem, alone together as they each patiently, methodically scan the rows of fields for finds, which they share at the weekly meetings of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). Wearing huge headphones to hear their detector signals, they have a deliberate and studied pattern. When they get a signal, they dig out a careful dirt square. They call over the other and discuss the find, placing it in one of the ziplock bags stashed around their waists. Then they carefully replace the soil plug they dug. It's a bit of a ballet.
Getting a landowner’s permission to detect is a source of stress and conflict in the series. The first series is on the land of an odd duck farmer, happy to have them detect anywhere but the paddock. Stay out of the paddock! Well, there’s the Chekov’s gun for the season! Keeping permissions exclusive, having alternate sites for detecting is critical for our guys.
All seven DMDC members are carefully drawn, specific, and fascinating. President Terry’s wife, Sheila, is ever present but not a detectorist herself, but is always there because she adores her husband unreservedly. Crook gives each member their turn, their moment. And frankly, we’re rooting for each DMDC member. Especially against their rival group, the hated AntiquiSearchers, and especially, especially the pair they dub “Simon and Garfunkel” because of their similar appearance.The slow burn of the Simon and Garfunkel gags pay off magnificently in the end.
The actors are so perfect in their roles it took me forever to recognize two actors from EastEnders, the long running British soap I’ve watched for over 30 years. They inhabit and seem real here.
Before embarking on Detectorists I urge you to watch an episode of British mainstay series, Time Team. I just happened to be working my way through Time Team at the same time as Detectorists and the lineage us unmistakable. For twenty some years, Time Team featured presenter Tony Robinson (Baldrick offa Black Adder) along with a team of history and archaeology specialists descending upon a site to swarm and dig over three days to prove a hypothesis. In one particularly funny episode, they tear the floor out of a lovely Tudor home looking for King Canute’s mead hall. I bolted upright in one episode in which they enlisted the help of some local detectorists who’d made finds on one of the sites. Evidently, so did Mackenzie Crook. (some spoilers: https://inews.co.uk/culture/detectorists-people-find-realise-hold-close-102357)
I really don’t want to spoil this beautiful series for anyone, not even in a small way. It is striking for the sensitive and nuanced portrayal of Andy and Lance’s friendship. I can’t recall a better portrayal of a pair of non-romantically entwined people; they know each other so intimately and want the best for each other. Maybe Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson exhibit that kind of bond, but here to see two men in a strong, meaningful friendship is revelatory. They are both bright and underemployed, sharing tales of quiz shows like Mastermind and QI, quizzing each other, ribbing poor contestant performance. Their relationship feels real and lived in.
We get clear looks at each man’s home lives. Even there, no character is a stereotype or a mere sketch. The redoubtable Diana Rigg appears as Andy’s partner’s mum! Lance’s ex (and the man who made her an ex) fill out this world in the first series. We go to Lance’s day job in a fruit and veg warehouse and get to know some of his coworkers. We even go to Andy’s partner Beck’s work, and see how toxic the workplace is for her spirit. Andy and Lance are so fully realized that we worry for them, rejoice for them, and even scold them when they take missteps.
Detectorists is a perfect work. There is nothing out of place, no wincing moments where something missed the mark, like a bad line, poor performance, or weird set piece. If you can make some time to wander the fields of Essex with the DMDC you’ll find this treasure.
So sad to hear of Diana Rigg’s passing. She was an important and vital part of this show, and we will miss her terribly.
Thanks to Adrienne, I’ve been made aware of the most magical, wonderful, sweet television show that is perfect for pandemic binge-watching. Both Adrienne and myself are serious anglophiles (hell, I’m British, can I still be an anglophile?) and I believe you can watch this show on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Acorn TV (there’s only three seasons in total).
It’s a quick binge and by the end I really, really didn’t want the show to be over. Detectorists debuted on BBC four (the ‘arty’ BBC channel in Britain) and is written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, who was on the British version of The Office.
Set in the fictional town of Danebury in England, Crook plays Andy, a day-laborer finishing his archaeology studies. The show is mostly about Andy and his pal Lance (Toby Jones), who works at a vegetable wholesaler and drives an ancient Triumph TR7, who are detectorists, or metal detectors. The show follows their personal lives and the exploits they get into with their DMDC (Danebury Metal Detecting Club). Now, doesn’t that sound like a powerhouse show? Not so much?
The acting and characters in Detectorists are just sublime. Andy and Lance are, as you might imagine, not alpha males. The women in their lives are much smarter and understanding. I really do not want to spoil the series for you, because it is so worth watching. These two mates are out in the fields everyday, looking for gold, and mostly finding beer can pull tops (remember those?), buttons and even Matchbox toy cars.
The Danebury club is the perfect picture of a group of English eccentrics, and we learn about them as the series moves forward. Terry, a retired policeman who is the club president is one such character, along with his wife Sheila, who makes a mean lemonade. Villains are represented by another, dodgier club headed by “Simon and Garfunkel.”
The dialog and acting (Diana Rigg and her real-life daughter have important parts) in this show is second to none, and there are very cool flashbacks to treasure being buried in ancient times. Magpies are also an important plot point. Again, I’m trying hard not to give you any spoilers, but Detectorists is like the Slow Food version of television. Local ingredients and dialogue, and a nutritious and very sweet ending. It’s all about two pals hanging out, solving each other’s problems, and talking about University Challenge (a British game show a bit like Jeopardy!) With all the insanity in the world today, this show was a real respite, a shelter in the storm. I encourage you to seek out Detectorists. Every minute is sweet and lovingly crafted. It may not be gold, but it is television treasure.
Fans of "Detectorists" might enjoy a recent book on the series, with a foreword from Mackenzie Crook: https://www.colinsackett.co.uk/landscapesofdetectorists.php