One of the true strengths of TV comedy is that different styles can work. There can be broad, mile-a-minute laugh-fests, there can be dark, satirical pieces or even shows like BBC4’s Detectorists, where laconic, observational, character-driven humour wins the day.
The series is based around the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (the DMDC) and especially two members, Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Mackenzie Crook). Both are middle-aged men struggling in life but they find solace in their friendship…and in wandering about rural English fields with metal detectors, digging up old nails and buttons.
Lance drives a forklift, moving palettes of vegetables during the day while pining after his ex-wife (Lucy Benjamin) who left him for the manager of the local Pizza Hut. Andy lives with his long-suffering girlfriend (Rachael Stirling) while endlessly picking away at an archaeology degree. Both are dissatisfied, but do not know what will give them fulfillment.
Then, two things shake up their world. First is the arrival of a young, pretty University student (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) keen to find out about being a metal detector – or detectorist, as they are quick to point out – and second is the opportunity to explore a much-coveted piece of farmland with exclusive rights.
Detectorists is a gentle comedy. There are few big laughs, but plenty of smiles. It is a sedate study of the characters and their maginalised world. The DMDC is a group of misfits, while there is also the opposing Antiquisearchers, always trying to pounce on a promising find.
Crook not only stars, but also writes and directs. However, he is more than willing to let Jones – who is superbly sweet and awkward here – take centre-stage most of the time and is unafraid to be the butt of jokes. When Andy is waiting for his girlfriend to come out of the school she teaches at, he is approached by a police officer because he looks like a paedophile. (“You’re making the Mums nervous.”)
While the core cast plays up the naturalism, it allows the supporting characters to be more broad. David Sterne, as the mad farm owner who may or may not have killed and buried his wife, steals every scene he is in. Elsewhere, a pair of detectorists from the Antiquisearchers who bear more than a passing resemblance to Simon and Garfunkel, are the target of much of the show’s most obvious humour.
Deceptively clever, the show’s laidback vibe covers some carefully-drawn character work and the story-lines unfold at a laconic yet steady pace. The result is a world that feels properly drawn, yet intimate and it is one both welcoming and absorbing.
A subtle, heartfelt pleasure, Detectorists is an elegant comedy worth hunting down.
Aside from a couple of picture galleries, the main extra feature on board is a behind-the-scenes featurette. It is primarily talking heads as various cast and crew members are interviewed, but there is a candid feel to it that is as laidback as the show itself. The cast all seem to have past work connections with Crook and appear genuinely thrilled to be on board. It is not a gritty doco piece that reveals dark secrets, but it is a charming glimpse of the people behind the work that is affectionate and pleasant to watch.