Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
I absolutely adore Detectorists. Originally recommended to me by my friend Denise (yes, big hat tip there!), the three (short) seasons of this BBC4 production are about a rural British metal-detecting club and their never-ending search for treasures buried for hundreds of years in fields and fern-brakes. The principal characters are Lance and Andy, two regular blokes who wouldn’t stand out much in a crowd. The heart of the program is in simplicity, quirky normalcy, and the sometimes awkward bond between these two men.
Lance is played by veteran character actor Toby Jones. A terrifically talented performer, Jones doesn’t get a lot of work because he is of such short stature… not short enough to nab role after role like Peter Dinklage, but not tall enough to be leading-man material, either. So he has made a career of specializing in quirkiness. And memorability.
Andy is played by the show’s creator, writer, and director, Mackenzie Crook. If he looks familiar, it’s probably because you remember him as the pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean whose wooden eye kept falling out. As with Jones, Crook is not conventional leading man material because of his emaciated, strung-out looks. But this is, in part, why Lance and Andy are so appealing as characters. They are not the “beautiful people” we are so used to watching on TV. They are like people we know in real life.
Lance’s and Andy’s lives revolve around their metal-detecting hobby. Lance’s day job involves moving shipping containers of produce around a storage facility, while Andy is a mostly out-of-work archaeologist. In Season 3, the domestic storylines have Lance and his girlfriend Toni trying to sort out living arrangements while Andy and his wife Becky try to sort out job and housing prospects after having returned from field work in Africa.
Each season drives Lance and Andy, and their detectorist buddies and adversaries (such as they are), toward a specific buried treasure. In Season 3, it’s a trove of Roman burial gold–which they are in danger of missing because the farmland in question is being transformed into a solar energy grid. And because of theiving magpies.
The tone of the program is light and charming. Crook’s scripts focus on witty dialog and gentle running gags (like Lance’s TR7, Andy’s inability to be truthful, Becky’s interfering mom, Sheila’s lemonade, Varde’s silence, and a pair of interlopers reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkle in camoflage) rather than setpieces involving explosions, car chases, drug orgies, or scantily-clad women. Without at all trying to be politically-correct or “safe for the whole family,” Detectorists manages, nonetheless, to be the kind of thing you could literally sit down and watch with just about anyone.
Whether the kids or your friends–or you, for that matter–would find it entertaining is another matter. It’s so old-fashioned in many ways that it might just bore you to tears.
For my money, though, this is exactly what entertainment and art ought to be: something, as William Faulkner once observed, that improves a person’s life “by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” I have been consistently moved by Crook’s gentle stories.
Sometimes, “old-fashioned” is just the treasure you’ve been searching for.
Will you search through the lonely earth for me?
Climb through the briar and bramble?
I’ll be your treasure… I’m waiting for you.
Season 3 of Detectorists is now available on DVD. You can also find Season 3 on Amazon for a fee. Seasons 1 and 2 are both available on Netflix, and with your Amazon Prime subscription.