‘The Detectorists’ Review, A Dramedy for Geeks


“What ya got?”

Why do the British make me feel smarter whenever I engage their pop culture? As much as I like NPR and PBS for what they offer, The BBC from radio to TV is superior. And PBS imports a lot of BBC shows.

Okay, I know we have smartly scripted shows in the states too, but considering that NPR and PBS is federally funded (with partial funding by corporate sponsors), why is the BBC (also government funded) so superior in its offerings? One visit to BBC Radio and you can see the rich variety. …A debate for another time, I guess.

The BBC show I have recently fallen in love with is The Detectorists. A low key dramedy with a haunting folk song opening about metal detecting outcasts written and directed by MacKenzie Crook of The Office UK and Pirates of the Caribbean fame. He also stars in the series as Andy Stone, a scared dreamer pushed towards achievement by his school teacher girlfriend Becky, played by Rachel Stirling. His best friend and fellow metal detectorist is Lance Stater, played by Toby Jones (who you might know from the movie Infamous where he did a much more convincing job as Truman Capote than Philip Seymour Hoffman in his version simply titled Capote).

What is the series about? That’s what makes it so low key. It’s really about ordinary life and the escape from the mundane by way of a mundane hobby–metal detecting. The detecting is similar to playing the slots at a casino. Every time the device whirs in your ear through the headset it could be buried Saxon gold or a lost pull tab from a can of soda. …And most likely it will be the pull tab.

The story lines vary, some admittedly cliche, but they don’t really matter in regards to the characterization by the cast. It’s beautifully acted. You want to hang out with these people and, unless you’re a celebrity, a world adventurer or with the Navy Seals, you’ll understand their plight of small town anxiety and boredom. Day to day life can become routine; a drudgery to get through 8 hours or more to receive a paycheck, make dinner, watch a nightly show and go to bed only to start over again in the morning.

Andy works as an infrequent landscaper waiting on the next job and hasn’t had the drive to succeed further careerwise because his lack of success allows him to have time for metal detecting and dreaming of finding museum quality antiquities. There’s a certain fear locked up within him regarding any move forward as is made evidently clear by his relationship with Becky. Each new step has a risk that can potentially throw him out of his comfort zone. His love of metal detecting is his escape from the future that is always calling to him to change his life and add more responsibility. If he finds the mother lode of gold coins maybe that will allow him the life he wants, a relief from financial pressure and the pressure from his girlfriend to find a new career adventure overseas.

The opposite appears to be true though. Any success at metal detecting is short lived as what is found brings with it unfounded anxiety and a realization that even if the pair of metal detecting friends hit the jackpot it probably won’t make them any happier. Especially for Toby Jones’ character Lance who throughout his life has had a variety of failures and successes including financial windfalls that didn’t make a difference. He’s still searching for what he can’t have or thinks he needs to be happy. It’s ultimately the people in their lives that will bring contentment, not the results of a metal detecting find.

You don’t have to be a detectorist to enjoy this show. It’s about life in general and the landscapes they cover with their hobby are peaceful and gorgeous. If you have ever engaged in a hobby with minute rules and unwritten etiquette you’ll find something in common with the metal detecting club depicted. And the low key comedy bits will put a smile on your face as it is the kind of humor you can find amongst friends, family and mild enemies.

Currently, at time of this post, you can find The Detectorists on Netflix. There are 2 series (seasons) available (the second series includes the Christmas special). No word yet on if there will be a third season.