On Wednesday probably the last ever episode was broadcast of the excellent sitcom Detectorists. A lot of loose ends remained: the gold lay tantalisingly out of reach in the magpies’ nest, visible only to viewers; Andy and Becky had yet to bid for their dream house and Lance and Toni had yet to move in together. Plus, the date when their field would be built on was fast approaching, and in a last desperate bid to find what underlies the grass, the Danebury Metal Detecting Club join forces with the Dirt Sharks (Simon and Garfunkel) and hold a rally to see what they can find. In the midst of this, Andy and Becky have to go to the auction where their house goes for far more than they can afford; however at the last minute Becky bids and wins it, revealing afterwards that her Mum had lent her the money. Triumphant, they return to the rally which is just about to break up, having found very little. Still, the tree is saved, since Phil (Garfunkel) has put a preservation order on it. Andy and Lance are just packing up to go when the miraculous happens: the magpies start moving, dislodging the gold and showering it onto the ground. The scene dissolves with the two of them picking it up in total wonder.
I don’t know if they can make another series. I guess there’s always a way back, but so many loose ends were tied up here that I don’t know where they could go with it. Still it’s been an engaging and very different sitcom: unusual in its subject matter and the fact that it takes place outdoors. It’s also extremely well-observed and the friendship between the two guys is touching whilst downplayed. But there are many other aspects to the narrative: they both have relationships – Andy has a steady girlfriend while Lance is plagued by his ex-wife before he finally takes up with Toni; then his long-lost daughter appears. Andy and Becky move to Botswana for a year or two between series two and three, where he works on a dig. They have a child together. Interspersed with this are scenes of the DMDC and spats with the Dirt Sharks. But the point of the programme I guess, is the passion they have for their hobby. They really care about detecting; they care about archaeology; and in a world that cares only about money, this is a great thing to see. Mackenzie Crook said when he wrote it that he had The Good Life in mind and that he wanted it to be uncynical.
It’s a great series; sitcom at its finest. If you haven’t watched it yet, all three seasons are on iplayer.
I have made mention of this little gem of a sitcom in the past:
and as all the world surely knows by now, a metal detector is the piece of kit but the person operating it is called a detectorist.
Detectorists is now back for a third series and though it’s still consigned to the relative backwaters of BBC 4, the Beeb is finally promoting it. I wasn’t quite sure about this series at first: Andy and Becky are back from Botswana where Andy was working on a dig; they have no money and are living with her mother whilst saving for a house. Andy ends up quitting his job on a local dig because his boss doesn’t give a toss about Roman floors; meanwhile the field where they have been detecting for years, is under threat of development.
But from a rather slow start the series has built to last week’s stonking episode. I won’t give it all away since it may still be languishing on your ‘downloads’ list or you may yet have to catch up on the series as a whole: suffice it to say that everything comes together and rather than the gentle comedy which usually prevails, this episode is a firecracker. There’s one brilliant joke after another; the best one being when the pals decide to save a tree by putting a bat box in it. For more information they phone the Bat Action Line which turns out to be staffed by none other than their arch-rivals, the Dirt-Sharks (aka Simon and Garfunkel) who happen to be in a nearby field. The dialogue goes like this:
Phil: could you turn off your phone please? It’s interfering with my detector.
Paul: I’ve had a call.
Phil: So? Just turn it off
Paul: But it’s on the bat-phone!
Sheer genius. Much more than this is afoot and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds next week. In the meantime, here’s the episode in question:
Where comedy’s concerned I prefer sitting to standing as I like sit-com but find stand-up quite scary. I’m terrified of people not laughing. Stand-up is quite confrontational; it’s a series of jokes, whereas sitcom is far more complex. The comedy comes from dialogue, situation and character; every sitcom creates a world of its own and that’s something that really interests me. Take the latest series on BBC about a pair of blokes searching for bits of metal in a field. ‘Detectorists’ (we learn in episode one that a metal detector is a piece of equipment and the person operating it is a detectorist) is an unusual sitcom in that it takes place mostly outdoors as the pair search for the Holy Grail that is the Saxon ship thought to have been buried nearby. It’s a very well-observed comedy and the characters are utterly believable and well-acted by Mackenzie Crook (Gareth in ‘The Office) and Toby Jones (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, bizarrely, the voice of Dobby the house elf).
I could see myself writing sitcom (and in fact I did once write a radio sitcom) but I could never in a million years do stand-up. As a poet the worst thing that can happen to you is that people don’t listen or don’t clap – but as a comedian if you’re up there giving it your all and people don’t laugh, it’s just the worst thing ever. It makes me shudder.
I need some comedy at the moment as I’ve just had an email saying my memoir has not even made the longlist. I’m really upset because I thought this was going to be my big break.
PS I’ve just found out that Toby Jones is the son of Freddie Jones, the character actor. I once knew someone at Uni who was friends with him…