The quiet brilliance of Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorists

We salute Detectorists, a brilliantly written, strongly performed comedy series that airs its Christmas Special tonight...

In case you didn’t know, BBC4 has been playing host to one of the best things on telly these past couple of months. It’s the home of the comedy drama, Detectorists.

If you haven’t seen it, Detectorists centres on the trials and tribulations of titular detectorists (that’s people who go metal detecting, if you weren’t aware) Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones). Set in the fictional town of Danebury, the show follows the two best friends in their ambitions both personal and detectorist with the help, and occasional hindrance, of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC).

I’ll admit, my ham-fisted description does absolutely nothing to convey to you just how much of a delight this show is. The premise is so ostensibly niche it’s easy to understand why some would overlook it, but it’s such a kind hearted, funny show, to do so is doing it a massive disservice.

Let’s start with the key to all good comedy, the writing. Detectorists is entirely written by one of the show’s stars, Mackenzie Crook. The script’s humour comes from its humanity and the honest observations of the real world. It’s all conversations about University Challenge and finding out your mate thinks Wimbledon Common is a fictitious place made up solely for The Wombles. There is nothing ostentatious or showy about the show’s comedy, jokes are given room to breathe, helping to stop Detectorists from falling into caricature or parody. It’s just such a well-rounded and distinctively written show I can’t wait to see what Crook writes next.

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Another joy of the writing is the host of charming characters that come from it. The supporting characters of the DMDC and beyond are all quietly eccentric and really develop across the two series into a lovely group of oddballs. I particularly love Hugh (Divian Ladwa) and Russell’s (Pearce Quigley) joint mission in series 2 and basically any time Simon and Garfunkel (Paul Casar and the ever-brilliant Simon Farnaby) are on screen it’s comedy gold.

Rachael Stirling is really lovely as Andy’s wife Becky. She could so easily have become the nagging girlfriend sitcom staple but her relationship with Andy is so well drawn she never does. The show never claims that its characters are perfect so on the occasions where Becky does get frustrated with Andy it feels totally justified.

At the core of the show are two brilliant performances from Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones. As good as everyone else is they are absolutely the glue that binds the show together. The two play their chit-chat and occasional neuroses with absolute honesty; they bounce off each other so naturally that their relationship comes across as unfailingly genuine. Mackenzie Crook has a pedigree in comedy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as good as he is here.

Toby Jones’s filmography veers more towards the dramatic and occasional art house project, but he shows such an affinity for comedy in Detectorists that I’m surprised he’s not done more. His timing and delivery is absolutely on the money. They’re such an effortless pairing, both striking a balance between the humour and emotion on which the charm of the show hinges.

A quick word of praise for the shows music and visuals. Jamie Cairney is the cinematographer for Detectorists and he’s made it look like an absolute dream. The show is filmed in Suffolk which is hardly the world’s ugliest place but, the show is entirely shot in the summer (with the exception of the upcoming Christmas special) and everything is given the most beautiful golden sheen. It has the look of nostalgic summers and endless fields of green which I defy you not to fall in love with. The music comes courtesy of Johnny Flynn, it’s gorgeously folksy and, in some kind of pavlovian way, instantly relaxes you when you hear it.

Admittedly nothing of great note happens for the majority of Detectorists (the ‘action highlight’ of one of the episodes is the discovery of a Status Quo pin badge) but that’s kind of the point. The true action happens in the lives of the characters, characters that are charming, lovingly realised and who we care about. It’s a total treasure (boom tish!) and one of my favourite shows of 2015.

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Whether we’ll get a series 3 is entirely in the hands of Mackenzie Crook, but what we currently have are two, funny, heartfelt series that desperately deserve to be seen.

The Detectorists Christmas Special airs on the 23rd of December at 10pm on BBC4.

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