Although it follows the lives of two amateur metal-detector enthusiasts, Detectorists is less about discovering treasure and more about understanding that you’ll likely never find what you’re looking for.
There’s a sort of melancholy that runs through this comedy series, but it manages to never obstruct the humor. Instead it makes the jokes and bright spots feel all the more potent — a sort of silver lining that’s genuine and that you can appreciate.
At first glance, Detectorists portrays the open fields of southeast England in a way that feels meditative. Our main characters patiently march through the countryside, sweeping their devices left to right, while the folk soundtrack calms and captivates. If you’re like me, you’ve grown to feel a bit cramped over the past year. This is a show that can help you stretch your legs in a way.
Creator Mackenzie Crook and costar Toby Jones serve as the protagonists of the series. Crook you probably recognize from The Office or the Pirates of the Caribbean series. He usually portrays a sort of gaunt, whipping boy and comic relief.
Jones has earned attention and acclaim from his roles in more films than I can list. Together, he and Crook are both “you know them when you see them” performers.
Detectorists enlists its leads in the roles of Andy Stone and Lance Slater, two quiet and well-read friends who spend their free time with their eyes trained to the ground as they comb the open fields of Essex. In between searching, Stone and Slater make small talk about their home lives and discuss strategies for locating precious artifacts. More often than not, all they walk away with are pockets full of buttons, pull tabs, and the odd Hot Wheels car.
Despite the obvious obscurity of their hobby and governing interest in archaeology, Stone and Slater are never treated as jokes. The show refuses to punch down to its protagonists, even when it recognizes that the pursuit of local history isn’t the sexiest venture one can imagine. Detectorists offers an unbiased look at the practice of scouring the countryside with a metal detector, while still allowing characters on the show to realistically voice their criticism of this hobby.
The two men are the sort of friends who have long ago heard all the jokes that the other has to tell. They are comfortable enough in their friendship to share their honest — if sometimes too honest — opinions, advice, and criticisms of one another. In addition to their shared passion for history and treasure hunting, the two men are also united by fear of moving forward.
When the series begins, Stone finds himself unable to fully commit to a serious relationship, all while his partner insists they take advantage of teaching opportunities overseas. Slater, meanwhile, continues to dote on his ex-wife, allowing her to take advantage of his affection and generosity. Much like their shared interests, both men are stuck in the past.
The introduction of Sophie, a young and intelligent university student played by Aimee-Ffion Edwards, serves as the show’s first inciting incident that tests the friendship of its two leads. Although friendly and well-meaning, Sophie’s interest in detecting and sudden appearance into Stone and Slater’s lives causes a ripple effect that uproots their various personal relationships.
This disruption is only aggravated as the detectorists suspect they are on the verge of their biggest find yet: a long-lost Saxon burial site. But as I said at the beginning, this show isn’t about finding treasure.
Detectorists is a comforting show in that it acknowledges that sadness and longing are part of life. It’s natural to spend much of your life questioning if you’ve made any real impact on the world. You will find yourself regretting the chances you didn’t take in the past, yet still unwilling to risk the comfort of your everyday life.
But despite all this and knowing that they may never find what they’re looking for, our main characters continue to search. They slowly pace through the fields and pick at the earth day after day with no promise of reward. And in between their hobby, they live their lives.
Stone and Slater go to work. They heckle one another during the less-than-exciting meetings of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club. They contend with bland home-cooked meals and look forward to trivia nights at the local tavern.
And as they inspect each inch of open field in the county, they stand atop the tombs of Saxon warriors. They picnic in former battlefields and recover spent armaments to later display on a card table in their club headquarters. They long for the sort of heroic exploits that they are unable or unwilling to achieve.
But the show recognizes one thing about Stone and Slater and every single other character on Detectorists: No matter what they do or do not find, at least they are still alive. And even the most fruitless day spent digging in the dirt is better than being underground.