“Will you search through the lonely earth for me?
Climb through the briar 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 songbirds
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 ghosts 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”
- Johnny Flynn
The welcome news that a new Christmas special is in the offing of this delightful show made me want to look back on its unabated little joys. Detectorists is such a warm melody of understated pleasure, one that is so easy to miss that you wonder at the vagaries of fate and chance. Well, perhaps nothing so dramatic, but surely that is what the bumbling, everyman heroes of this delightful show, Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook, who is also the main creative force behind this show, straddling responsibilities of writing and direction as well), would have pondered upon as they meandered over the lush countryside with their mean machines of choice. Or, in this case, their trusted metal detectors. But they aren’t metal detectors themselves. As they keep having to remind the less informed, they are detectorists.
There are three seasons, each of six episodes only (with a Christmas special thrown in), and the leanness helps to keep the show honest and memorable. Lance and Andy are the focus but there are charming asides to the quirky humanity around them, prime among which is the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC) and its members. They detect on various fields, farms, and other places where they have permission to with the hope of perhaps one day unearthing treasure and do their own ‘gold dance’, but it’s really all about the love for an obscure hobby. And therefore, even if one knows nothing about metal detecting, the show connects. A lot of us do have our own seemingly trivial pursuits, one which perhaps on the surface adds nothing to the sheen of our lives but just maybe that which keeps us sane and bumbling along in the face of life’s vicissitudes. So, bottle caps and ring pulls are more the order of the day for these amateur detectorists, and they even organize open days and sessions to discuss these findings.
There are minor hindrances and villains to overcome of course, for what is life without these? A recurring theme throughout the three-season run is the fracas between the DMDC and the two Simon & Garfunkel lookalike members of a rival organization (which keeps changing its name). There is many a tiff to be had in the scrounging for permits and making sure you stake your hold on the land that enables you to have first access to detect on it.
Andy and Lance have their minor domestic disturbances too to contend with. Andy’s relationship with his wife, Becky (Rachael Stirling), is on a bit of a rocky road, what with her ambitions wanting them to get out into the world and for Andy to seriously pursue a job with the archaeology degree he has been pursuing. Andy finds it hard to give up on home comforts though and matters aren’t helped when a young ingenue, Sophie, comes along with an interest in the club’s activities. Lance is a loner, left by his ex-wife Maggie for a Pizza Hut manager but who he is still trying to win back. This usually results in him having to perform the odd tasks for her which her new husband will not do and there is a pitying sweetness to how this reflects on Lance’s loneliness. Further developments in the show will see Andy contemplating a move to Botswana and Lance realizing perhaps he is not so alone.
“Metal detecting is the closest you’ll get to time travel. See, archaeologists, they gather up the facts, piece the jigsaw together, work out how we lived and find the buildings we lived in. But what we do … that’s different. We unearth the scattered memories. Mine for stories. Fill in the personality … We’re time travelers.”
Are there some minor detriments? Perhaps the character of Becky doesn’t entirely fit into this world. Mackenzie Crook’s dreaming, shabby looking loser surely may not be able to entice, and keep, a woman like this in the real world. All the other actors have the real-world believability about them in this show’s environs. And the third season, while undeniably good, doesn’t reach up to the standards of the first two. But look, these are only little quibbles. When I started watching the first episode, I did wonder whether the series would hold my attention for its entirety. Yet, that’s the magic of it though. It creeps up on you, lovingly and smoothly, and before you know it, you are looking forward to going back to this place with its weirdly appealing hobbyists and their lives. That delightful title track by Johnny Flynn, the words of which I used to open up this review, is such a balm to the senses and captures the essence of the show perfectly; a blend of love and appreciation for man and nature, with various close-up shots of birds and animals forming part of its narrative.
Detectorists did win a lot of praise and BAFTAs at the time, but I do feel this may not have been noticed much outside its home country. Which is a pity because this is a perfect comfort watch which can appeal to everyone, everywhere. I cannot recommend it enough.