I recommend the BBC sitcom Detectorists. It was written and directed by Mackenzie Crook
and stars Crook and Toby Jones as Andy and Lance, a hapless pair of metal detecting enthusiasts in the fictional town of Danebury.
The show is populated with characters who are endearing and fully formed, and seems to follow the modern trend of British comedy drama. There is absurdity, there are gags, but at the heart of it there is humanity. Andy and Lance are descendants of the emasculated males who have long been the stalwarts of sitcom, from Basil Fawlty, via Alan Partridge, to Mark Corrigan and many more.
Tonally the series is closest to The Trip, which saw Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing fictionalized versions of themselves as they were lumped together to tour the expensive eateries of the North. Both shows explore the solitude, pride and ridiculousness of the modern British man. They conjure up moments of bizarre beauty, managing to be both melancholy and optimistic at the same time. I often site the ‘Winner Takes it All’ moment in episode six of The Trip as one of my favourite sitcom moments. If I was on a shitty talking heads round up of Britain’s Favourite Sitcom Moments, I would not pick Del Boy falling through a bar, but I might pick The Winner Takes It All. And it would go down badly, because it’s not that great a moment when viewed in isolation, it works as a dénouement to the themes and character development of the last five episodes. Detectorists has a similar pacing and charactercentric humour. If laugh-a-minute sitcoms are the chocolate bars of comedy, Detectorists is a banana.
Up until Detectorists I had only seen Mackenzie Crook play idiots – Gareth in The Office and that one whose eyeball keeps falling out in Pirates of the Caribbean – and he’s very good at playing idiots. Turns out he’s very good at playing non-idiots too. While Andy and Lance don’t fit the straight man double act formula, Andy is the least eccentric and has a self-awareness which is noticeably absent from the other members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC). While the others depict the sillier side of English oddity, Andy is the semi-serious archaeologist, self-deprecating yet quietly obsessive. He is the heart of Detectorists and the heart of many a British man.
The rest of the cast and characters are all superb in their own right. Toby Jones is great as the tragically trodden upon Lance, Rachel Stirling’s Becky is a life-line to normality and has a convincing chemistry with Crook, Aimee-Ffion Edwards is the fresh faced initiate to eccentricity as Sophie, and Pearce Quigley and Divian Ladwa are a fantastically awkward and childlike duo at the centre of the DMDC.
You should buy it on DVD and watch it. Now.