https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/dec/09/detectorists-rich-portrait-unremarkable-lives-gone-slightly-awry-mackenzie-crook9 December 2017
Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook
Metal detecting is the closest you’ll get to time travel,” reflects Lance in the final episode of Detectorists (13 December, 10pm, BBC4). “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 travellers.”
It’s hard to think of a more exquisite TV creation than Mackenzie Crook’s Bafta-winning comedy-drama following the fortunes of Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Crook), dedicated treasure hunters, crumpled nearly men and members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club. If their gentle exploits haven’t made your heart sing and your stomach go fuzzy then, well, we can never be friends.
In its final act, Detectorists has brought us a rich portrait of unremarkable lives gone slightly awry. Weary disappointment hovers like a rain cloud over Lance and Andy – the former as he negotiates domesticity with his grownup daughter; the latter struggling without a steady income and squeezed in a small house with his wife, son and mother-in-law – though, as ever, there is staunch optimism in their conviction that they’re on the cusp of subterranean discovery, that relief from their humdrum existence is around the corner.
Detectorists is about nothing and everything. Made with palpable love, it’s about people and their passions; camaraderie and community. As a portrait of male friendship, it is closer to documentary than drama, delving beneath the topsoil of mid-life ennui via the sparsest of exchanges. You won’t find a laughter track, or smart-arse punchlines or an oh-so-subtle veil of irony here; instead of begging for your attention, Detectorists is notable for its avoidance of snark. It’s the drama least likely to culminate in alpha plonkers blowing up cars, taking down baddies or ravishing beautiful women.
Instead, it lingers lovingly over dewdrops on grass, magpies on gateposts, scudding clouds and gently fluttering leaves. Even an alfresco wee takes on a painterly aspect, viewed solely through the steam cloud billowing from behind a sunlit tree. Meanwhile, the camera makes high art out of Lance’s face in closeup, crestfallen as he unearths a scaffolding bracket instead of an Anglo-Saxon nugget, and from Andy’s silent incredulity when a colleague jokes about Richard Attenborough when he means David.
Detectorists isn’t afraid of silence, either, a quality seldom found in contemporary drama. Watching our protagonists ensconced under their favourite oak, Thermoses in hand and intermittently reflecting on last night’s University Challenge, brings with it a rare and enveloping tranquility. Testament to the mood-altering powers of television, Detectorists allows us, in its moments of bucolic loveliness, to tune out our grimly fractious world.
Sad as it is that Crook has called time on the series, it’s exactly as it should be. Many is the show that, feted early on, loses its mojo and enacts a slow, public death as we watch through our fingers in agony. By departing early, Detectorists leaves an unblemished record, the sweetest of memories and a clear affection for the unsung hobbyists quietly unearthing our history. Pub? Yeah, go on then.