Detectorists: The Little Show That Does
When it comes to television, it might seem dismissive to refer to a series as a “little” show, as if that adjective somehow diminishes its importance or influence, but it can also be a compliment. A little show can be unpretentious, and it can fly under the radar. It can move in slow, deliberate strokes and tell small, finely-drawn stories. Under the best circumstances, in other words, that little show can do huge things.
BBC 4’s series Detectorists is one of those little shows. The story focuses mostly on pals Lance Stater (Toby Jones) and Andy Stone (show writer and director Mackenzie Crook), members of the Danbury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). Lance and Andy spend a good deal of their free time canvassing fields and estates, using their metal detectors to look for pieces of history. They have friends and loved ones, and they experience all the weird, unpredictable things people with friends and loved ones do. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound exciting.
What makes Detectorists such a miracle is that it’s a little show that shouldn’t work, but it does. On the surface, it seems nothing happens, and at times, the plot and character development is so gradual and nuanced that it is barely noticeable. But despite their everyday qualities, the characters’ lives are captivating, whether they’re combing the English countryside for artifacts, gathering at the pub, or gently snooping into each other’s lives.
As with most little shows, Detectorist’s characters are what make it so watchable. Jones and Crook play Lance and Andy like they’ve known each other for years, portraying their friendship with all the comfort and shorthand you’d expect from old mates, and the supporting cast is just as subtly clever.
The most appealing moments in this series are the small ones, the bits you’ll easily miss if you aren’t watching and listening. There’s no high drama, where everything is made out to be the most dramatic thing in the universe and everyone flounces around like they’re on the verge of spontaneously combusting.
Detectorists adheres to a less-is-more approach to character and plot, wherein nothing is overstated or repeated, yet everything is vital. Somehow, it feels like we’re watching real people living their lives. The characters are quirky, but they’re authentic and endearing, like people who might live around the corner from you. Better yet, they’re folks you’d actually like to have living nearby.
One of the most appealing things about Detectorists, though—the thing that makes it a little show that does—is that it’s a comedy that doesn’t try to be witty. Occasionally, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but most often it just makes you smile.
Part of the great English comic writer P.G. Wodehouse’s brilliance was the way he could take unremarkable and even occasionally irritating characters like Bertie Wooster or Cuthbert Banks—men whose biggest worries were keeping aunts happy or wooing snobby girlfriends—and make his readers care about what happened to them. Mackenzie Crook executes this brilliantly with Detectorists, and his characters aren’t even irritating.
(Detectorists Series One and Two are currently available on Netflix in the U.S.)