Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Detectorists Season 2

Mackenzie Crook's Detectorists continues to be one of the gentlest, subtlest and best comedies on the BBC. Set in a dreamy sun-lit Essex (the same bit of Essex that JA Baker did his bird watching in The Peregrine) its about two blokes (Crook and Toby Jones) who are part-time amateur treasure hunters. As the title suggests the two friends use their metal detectors to look for gold or silver but usually only ever find Coke can ring pulls and pennies. Season 2 finds Crook's character with a new baby but unemployed and getting hassled from his wife who wants to move the family to Africa to work in a school and even more hassle from Diana Rigg - his mother in law - who despises him for having no job and making her daughter be the primary bread winner. 
Mackenzie Crook first came to the public's attention playing Gareth in Ricky Gervais's The Office and his deadpan brilliance was often the comic heart of the show. The Office drew on many comedic traditions: the silliness of the Pythons & Spike Milligan but also the satirical work of Beyond The Fringe and the dry irony of Chris Morris and The Larry Sanders Show. After The Office Crook then went on to do notable stage work, appearing in the first production of my favourite play of the last five years: Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem. Jerusalem explores what Englishness actually means today (if it means anything at all) and in a very funny way clashes together such diverse elements as: Samuel Beckett, Roald Dahl, Pete & Dud, George Orwell, William Blake & Chris Morris again. Mackenzie Crook has taken all of these antecedents for The Detectorists and thrown in a healthy dose of the Ealing comedies and Michael Powell too, especially the early classic films I Know Where I'm Going, A Canterbury Tale and A Matter Of Life And Death. Gentle, patient and filmed in an Essex & Suffolk of rolling wheat and barley and rape seed fields The Detectorists is funny but more than that it's very sweet (not however cloyingly sweet). It is a show about love and friendship and being a geeky hobbyist. I think I was perhaps the only person in the world who was disappointed when he learned that Trainspotting wasn't actually about train spotting. I like shows about geeks, nerds, weirdos and outsiders. Trainspotting was - yawn - about heroin addicts. We've seen a million movies about junkies. Junkies are boring narcissists. Real life trainspotters are fascinating. Why do they do it? What do they hope to get out of it? What drives them? What do their wives and girlfriends think? Do they have wives or girlfriends? Are there female trainspotters? Similarly those blokes you see on the beach with their metal detectors. What the hell are they up to? The Detectorists takes you inside that world and of course it's not boring at all. Trainspotters like Detectorists are heroes standing athwart the march of history attempting to impose order where there is only disorder and trying to salvage information or artifacts from the chilly embrace of entropy.
If I have a complaint its that Season 2 (which nearly concluded on Thursday night (there will be a Christmas Special filmed partially in Botswana)) was not quite as good as Season 1. There are a few wrong notes here and there and the direction is not quite as sharp as the first time around. Still the last regular season episode was very good with a lovely ending and a scene in the middle where the actress Sophie Thompson (Emma's sister) had to tell her character's entire back story just with her eyes. Detectorists is a superb little series with a proper opening title song  and is worth looking out for if it ever makes it to your country or if the Beeb ever repeats it.