Who would have thought a sitcom about a metal-detecting club would be one of the most heartwarming shows on TV? On paper it does, admittedly, sound like a bit of a hard sell. But scratch the surface of idiosyncratic comedy Detectorists and you’ll find warmth and a wonderful cast of characters that elevate it to something quite special.
Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, probably best known as the gormless Gareth in the UK Office or as wooden-eyed cutthroat Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean, Detectorists ran on BBC 4 from 2014 to 2017. It won a Bafta and is certainly popular, but it didn’t really catch on outside the UK and it truly deserves to. Each short season, and indeed each episode, is an utterly joyful, perfectly calibrated good mood.
Detectorists follows the fortunes of two friends, Lance (Toby Jones) and Andy (Crook), and their fellow members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). Andy lives with his partner Becky (Rachael Stirling), working cleaning jobs and studying for an archaeology degree, while Lance pines after his ex-wife Maggie (Lucy Benjamin), who left him for the manager of a Pizza Hut. We are introduced to their world by inductee club member Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), who joins Lance and Andy detecting on a local farm where they believe a Saxon hoard may be buried.
The search is jeopardised, however, when the DMDC’s loveably pompous club president, Terry (Gerard Horan), decides to investigate the mystery of the farmer’s missing wife; and events are further complicated by the continued presence of a rival metal-detecting pair who want the turf for themselves.
The DMDC is rounded out by the protective, almost brotherly pairing of Russell (Pearce Quigley) and Hugh (Divian Ladwa), and girlfriends Varde (Orion Ben) and Louise (Laura Checkley). As the series progresses, they have to contend with awkward pub quizzes and open mic nights, presentations on historical buttons, the search for a downed second world war fighter plane and the discovery of a Roman mosaic. While at home, Andy contends with the growing pressure of adult responsibility and Lance must find a way to get closure on his marriage.
A huge part of Detectorists’ appeal is down to its characters and their comforting familiarity. I see my friends and family in Lance and Andy and the DMDC – through their endless hospitality, discussions of British quiz show University Challenge, and the optimum way to brew a cup of tea.
There’s not a moment of malice or spite. There is conflict sure, but the antagonising is more on the level of teasing, the likes of which you might encounter on the school playground. Lance and Andy’s standoffs with rival detectorists the Dirt Sharks née AntiquiSearchers (played by Paul Casar and the hugely underrated Simon Farnaby) are hilariously juvenile, including their continued comparison to big-haired folk duo Simon and Garfunkel.
If you have a particular interest or hobby, especially if it’s somewhat on the fringe, you can’t fail to appreciate when you see that same enthusiasm in others. Detectorists knows there is comedy in the quirky obsession its characters have with metal detecting, with hilarious acknowledgment of the mundane in Terry’s talk on buttons, and Lance’s unearthing of a Tizer ring-pull from 1983. But it manages to find that humour without ever being cruel.
Detectorists also serves as a timely reminder to challenge ourselves. The series spans several years in the lives of the characters, so we can watch them live and grow and move outside their comfort zones. With characters so expertly drawn that their idiosyncrasies make them hugely relatable, the series has an unwavering sense of optimism that never lets up.
Detectorists has become one of those programs I find myself endlessly, overzealously recommending. It’s good-natured and charming, and there’s really something admirable about a series so singularly dedicated to making you feel good. And after the year we’ve just had, don’t we all deserve that?
• Detectorists is available to stream in Australia on Netflix and ABC iView. For more recommendations of what to stream in Australia, click here