To today’s young people, a gentle BBC Four comedy about metal detectors, sorry, detectorists, may sound like the least interesting way to spend 532 minutes, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Detectorists, the brainchild of writer and Pirates of the Caribbean actor Mackenzie Crook follows the stories of Andy Stone and Lance Stater, played by Crook and Toby Jones, better known as the voice of Harry Potter‘s Dobby, respectively. The show is set in the fictional North-West Essex village of Danebury, revolving around the pair’s personal lives, their own close pairing and their group of friends at the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, affectionately known as the D.M.D.C.
The show falls into the genre of gentle comedy, which is something it clearly relishes in. The entire premise of the show is to portray normal people living ordinary lives, sharing a passion for a relatively unpopular hobby, and do so in a way that will make its viewers laugh, cry and feel along the way. The show is thematically brilliant, covering many aspects of normal life such as love, friendship, history and family; this is done with expert relatability and appealing mundaneness.
Each character is unique in their own brilliantly odd way, drawing the viewers in to feel as though they are the ninth member of the DMDC. Club President Terry, played by Gerard Horan, is kind but overzealous in everything he does, and has an unrelenting adoration of his ditzy and supportive wife Sheila, played by Sophie Thompson. Varde (Orion Ben) speaks about three words in the entire show, yet come the end you completely understand her, largely due to the dynamic between her and her no-nonsense partner Louise (Laura Checkley), which is magnificently crafted by the great writing of Mackenzie Crook. Every character has their own clear experiences of the show’s central themes which are fully understood by the viewer, even if they are only alluded to briefly; no story is wasted. Each character is written so well that come the end of series three, the two main antagonists Art and Paul (Simon Farnaby and Paul Casar), or Simon and Garfunkel as they’re teasingly labelled on many occasions, are as beloved as the DMDC members themselves, with some very endearing details coming to the fold which alter the viewer’s perspective of them entirely, but I’ll leave those for you to discover yourself.
The cinematography of Jamie Cairney, Mattias Nyberg and John Sorapure is gorgeous and unchanging throughout. For anyone with a love of the English countryside, Detectorists provides an unwavering sense of peace and home, with shots of insects, wild rabbits and rolling fields interspersing many of the scenes better than many a Hollywood transition. Danebury, which is the Suffolk village of Framlingham in reality, provides the perfect setting for the show’s characters, being a place some may label as a bit dull, but inherently beautiful and somewhere anyone would be proud to call home. The show’s ongoing soundtrack is exquisite too, the theme song Detectorists by Johnny Flynn perfectly encapsulating all that the show is about, taking the themes of love and friendship, combining the actual act of metal detecting and putting it into a calming and lovely song, which perfectly matches up with the nature of the characters and the delightful visuals of the show.
Along with perfect scenery and the heartfelt parts of Crook’s exquisite writing, the comedy of the show is brilliant. Some people may object to profanity, but the swearing in Detectorists is far from obscene, always being perfectly deployed to add to the humour of scenes rather than detracting from the pleasantness of the experience, which is easy to do in gentler comedies. Much of the comedy can only be described as ordinary genius, taking simple ideas about otherwise mundane things and crafting them into genuinely hilarious jokes. One highlight is a conversation after Andy and Lance find a badge from a 1980s TV show they both used to enjoy, where they both agree that “nostalgia conventions really aren’t what they used to be.” The entire show is littered with warm and heartfelt moments like this, and have a real impact on the viewer in attaching them to the DMDC and its members.
There is no sole element which makes Detectorists so enthralling, it is more like a symphony where the true greatness occurs when every piece of the orchestra works together. The brilliance of Crook’s writing, combined with the cast’s talent and the visual feel of the show come together to make it truly unique. The commitment to keeping it low-key and loveable really sets it apart from the high-action, instant-satisfaction pieces that are so popular today, which to many fans and critics alike have made it one of the standout pieces of television comedy of the last decade. The show’s recent conclusion was everything a loving viewer could have hoped for, with all the oddball members of the DMDC finding their own personal treasures in an episode filled with heart-warming moments. In an age where viewers must search through the lonely earth of Netflix’s back catalogue to find a worthwhile watch, Detectorists is a true hidden treasure fully deserving of more recognition, and it is highly recommend that you detect this delightful pot of gold for yourself.
Should you wish to watch Detectorists, Series 1 and 2 are available on Netflix, and Series 3 is available on the BBC iPlayer.