Two men stand on a windy hillside, patiently scanning the ground with their metal detectors. One of them looks up and calls to the other, and we see what he has seen: a round backyard trampoline, the kind with a net around it, rolling gracefully down the hill toward them.
They watch in silence as it passes, their faces suggesting mild puzzlement, nothing more, and it continues on its graceful path down the hill. Moments later a Land Rover pulls up, and the driver asks if they have seen a trampoline.
“Went that way,” says one of the men, pointing. When the driver asks if there was a child inside it, the other man replies “Don’t think so.” The driver thinks this over for a moment.
“Right,” he says, as if trying to work out a particularly thorny problem. When asked if this is good news, the driver considers the question before replying “Potentially,” then drives off without another word.
This one-minute scene encapsulates everything that is weird, wise, and wonderful about the BBC4 TV show Detectorists. Weird, because an errant trampoline at loose in the English countryside is not at all usual; wise, because all involved realize that silence can speak volumes; and wonderful, because that is Detectorists, a gentle comedy that in a few short years has become one of the most beloved TV shows ever to air in Great Britain.
It runs to three seasons of six half-hour episodes each and one Christmas special; the entire series can be binge-watched in less than the time it takes to drive from Ashcroft to Prince George and back. Binge-watch it if you will — the entire run is available on Acorn TV — but if you are at all receptive to its charms (and it has too many to describe here), you will a) regret that it is over so soon and b) immediately want to watch it all over again.
Written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, the show is about two men who share a common hobby: metal detecting. What could have been a series that descended into a merciless piss-take of the hobby and those who pursue it instead becomes, in Crook’s hands, a nuanced, knowing, affectionate, and funny look at Andy (played by Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones) who spend as much time as they possibly can searching the countryside, ostensibly for long-buried items from the distant past (preferably made of gold).
What they mostly find is ring pulls, buttons, barbed wire, and bits of farm equipment, but that’s not important. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters to them. They are comfortable in each other’s company, talking about shared interests and their own lives and hopes and fears. Andy is married, and worried about not being able to get a job as an archaeologist and support his family, while Lance is sorting through his failed marriage while not being able to let go of his scatty ex, Maggie.
Along the way we meet the other members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, and get to know them all as real, warm, quirky human beings. There are also two snooty detectorists from a rival club, who Lance and Andy call Simon and Garfunkel because of their resemblance to the singing duo (and every time they appear, there’s a gentle Simon and Garfunkel guitar riff in the background).
It’s that kind of quiet, unshowy humour that abounds throughout Detectorists, along with scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy and others of stunning beauty, where the past comes alive and we see the relics that Andy and Lance occasionally find as living, breathing things that once belonged to real people who lived and loved and laughed the way we do. It’s a show that explores male friendship, hobbies, family, friends and more in a wise, gentle, and knowing way, that accepts Andy and Lance’s hobby with quiet understanding, and will leave you feeling better about humanity as a species long before its perfect, and perfectly lovely, ending. That’s something we could all do with more of right now.