Recommended without reservation or hesitation is DETECTORISTS, SERIES 1 & 2, my bid for the best comedy of the decade (and then some), now on DVD from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Channel X North/Lola Entertainment/BBC (whew, that’s a lot of entertainment!).
Originally broadcast in 2014, the initial six episodes revealed the unusual lifestyles of Andy and Lance, two Suffolk-based detectorists. What’s a detectorist? They are the dedicated curious of historical artifacts, diligently patrolling rural fields of suburban England in search of gold, either of the heritage kind or of the ore. In short, metal detector detectives.
Have to admit that even I was a bit on the fence during the first episode; I mean, this might have been a bit too odd even for me. And odd it is; in fact, DETECTORISTS could be the quirkiest TV comedy of all-time. So if your TV yuks run along the lines of Last Man Standing or anything with Kevin James or former Friends alumnus, move on.
But back to me and DETECTORISTS. So, the first episode ended, and I was biting my lower lip (this isn’t something I ordinarily do, btw, even under the most stressful conditions). But I’m fairly brave when there’s no real danger at hand, so I trekked on to episode two. I was starting to like these two strange looking Mutt and Jeff dudes, and actually chortling at their comments on life, death and everything in-between (such as television quiz shows). And I began to like their cohorts. By the third installment, I was eager and anxious to join them on their essentially fruitless journey for ancient Saxon treasure rumored to be buried in the meadow of an eccentric farmer (and his pet invisible dog) who is on police radar as a possible wife-murderer ([It’s] “…the Holy Grail for treasure hunters,” excitedly announces Lance, surveying his field of dreams. “The Holy Grail is the Holy Grail for treasure hunters,” soberly replies Andy). By parts four and five, I had become an addict; and by the series finale, I was having withdrawal pains. I was so freaking mad about this show ending that I nearly burst into tears (and, yes, I DO take my meds). Relief came several months later with the announcement of 2015’s SERIES 2. And, as indicated, both are now readily available here for one’s repeated viewing pleasure
DETECTORISTS is the brainchild of costar (Andy)/writer/director Mackenzie Crook. Crook, to us elitists, is best known for his bizarre portrayal of Gareth in the original UK production of The Office (the geeky guy with the Moe Howard do); to the masses, he is revered as Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. To comment on the most obvious of his “many hats” DETECTORISTS gigs (the on-camera one), Crook’s performance is perfectly off-kilter and believable; his writing and directing even more so. As his mate, Lance, the great actor Toby Jones notches up another masterful character on his already impressive resume.
The supporting cast can’t be beat either. As members of the Danbury Metal Detecting Club (or DMDC), in proper pecking order is Terry (Gerard Horan), former local police head, who nevertheless manages to get blown-up in a UXB mishap (however, like a Road Runner cartoon, his injuries are hopeless, but not serious), Terry’s wife, Sheila (Sophie Thompson) a ditzy aging hippie whose spiritual guide helps the gang (well, not really) along with her special lemonade brew (don’t ask). Louise and Varde (Laura Checkley, Orion Ben), wary, wry and wacky; then there’s Hugh and Russell (Divian Ladwa, Pearce Quigley), proof that oil and water combos can mix. And, finally, there’s sexy newbie Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), whose mysterious interest in the detectorist world comes under some scrutiny from the club who regard any DMDC enthusiast functioning in normal society with suspicion. A rival band of detectorists, more devious and skeevy, are led by none other than Simon and Garfunkel (Simon Farnaby, Paul Casar, for reasons you’ll have to discern for yourself). On the home front is Andy’s beautiful girlfriend, Becky (Rachael Stirling), one of the community’s leading school teachers, armed with a snarky attitude and a love for Andy because of rather than in spite of his weirdness (Andy’s lanky, Chas. Addams looks have banned him from visiting his love on school premises). Truth be told, the DMDC comprises a commendable group of indisputably honest, extremely intelligent (they’re the local pub trivia club champs) and decent folk; win/win – they’re are among the wittiest, savvy humans anyone could ever want to be privileged enough to encounter. That they look and act a bit left-of-center…or anywhere is by no fault of their own. Hey, I would be honored to call any of the DMDC my friends. And I want their official fleece club jacket!
Throughout the first six shows, we learn many secrets, such as Toby’s longing love for his dippy, ex-wife (Lucy Benjamin, a gold-digger of another sort, but still likeable in a restraining order sort of way), the fact that he’s won a massive lottery, and the truth about Sophie’s attraction to the detectorist world. We also learn that Becky is pregnant. All of this comes to a smashing conclusion when the Becks actually joins Andy, Toby and Sophie on their never-ending quest for Saxon loot. Using her smarts as a history major (and the fact that she is a teacher) inspires Becky to put forth her theory about where this treasure might be buried – should it really exist. The gang pooh-poohs her, an amateur at best, and moves on, as the camera provides one of the greatest Nelson Muntz visual moments in television history.
SERIES 2 opens with Andy and Becky welcoming little Stanley (Jacob Hill, Isabella Hill) into their lives (he actually goes detectoring with pop in a custom-made knapsack). Becky is also feeling wanderlust, fed up with mundane local school politics, and yearning for a sojourn to Botswana to assist the underprivileged (she and Andy have often talked of such an adventure, but now that it might actually happen, the detectorist, a homebody creature of habit, is getting a bit freaked). Other events include Varde finally talking, and a special mission for Hugh and Russell at the request of the Lord Mayor (Kenneth Collard, he lost his mayoral chain/sash whilst snogging an under-aged babe at the local forest-enshrined lover’s lane). Lance is introduced to his twentysomething daughter (Alexa Davies), who he’s always wanted to meet. Furthermore, there’s the arrival from Germany of Peter (Daniel Donskoy), a studious, man with a purpose (searching for a downed WWII Luftwaffe plane that carried his grandfather); Andy, in particular, is mistrustful of him, especially when the foreigner and Sophie become an item. And, indeed, Peter may not be what he seems. And Simon and Garfunkel return with their new detectorist group The Nighthawks, early-on pegged by the DMDC as a terrorist group. Will the noble detectorists prevail in the face of adversity? Can Lance win over his daughter, but overcome the legendary Curse of the Gold? Will Andy and Becky part, due to his reluctance to relocate to Africa? All these and more are hilariously answered into this most satisfying sequel featuring the aforementioned wonderful new cast additions (and, best of all, as the mother-in-law whose intense dislike for Andy is transcended by her cut-to-jugular advice, Stirling’s real-life mum, Diana Rigg).
Crook’s writing and direction goes further over-the-top in SERIES 2 – a good thing. And he’s helped by the spectacular widescreen location photography by Jaime Cairney and John Sorapure, and Johnny Flynn’s and Dan Michaelson’s gorgeous music (can’t stop humming that main theme).
In case you’re still trying get a fix on DETECTORISTS, allow me to give you a sample of the pre-credit teaser from SERIES 2, episode 5:
It’s a beautiful pastoral morning. Andy and Lance are already hard at work. There is a loud whooshing sound. The two men look up and, alarmingly, see a huge tumbleweed-like cylindrical object rolling toward them. It is an adolescent’s enclosed Jungle Gym trampoline.
LANCE: What was that, mate?
Almost immediately, a top-of-the-line land rover cruises up to the detectorists. It stops, the window is rolled down, revealing a posh, middle-aged country squire.
SQUIRE: Any of you chaps see a trampoline?
ANDY: (indicates direction) Went that way.
SQUIRE: Was there a child in it?
ANDY: Don’t think so.
LANCE: Is that good news?
SQUIRE (pauses pensively) Potentially.
The squire drives off.
Folks, I had to reverse the action back over the credits because I was missing about two minutes due to my constant, uncontrollable laughter.
Suffice to say, Acorn has gone the distance in their presentation of DETECTORISTS. Picture and sound (some nifty stereo-surround nature effects) are so lush, clear and vibrant that one could easily confuse this DVD for a Blu-Ray. Supplements include the Christmas special reunion and an excellent documentary following the cast and crew on-location.
Hey, comedy fans, you don’t have to be detectorists to unearth this treasure. So don’t let it stay buried. Start digging!
DETECTORISTS, SERIES 1 & 2. Color. Widescreen [1.66:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; stereo-surround; Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Channel X North/Lola Entertainment/BBC; CAT #s AMP-2412, AMP-2470. SRP: $39.99@.