Detectorists

With Detectorists, Mackenzie Crook invented a whole new genre of television – the pastoral sitcom. Sure, there have been plenty of comedies set in the countryside before (admit it – every single one of you is now picturing three men rolling down a Yorkshire dale in a bathtub), but none you’d actively describe as… beautiful.

Watching Detectorists is like stepping into a Turner or a Constable: the fields and furrows of Essex laid out beneath vast Eastern skies, while bees and insects buzz drowsily in the cowslip and foxglove. Even its lovely, restful theme song, by the folk musician Johnny Flynn, is a thing of enchantment.

It is also, crucially, very funny, with a perfectly cast ensemble of gently eccentric oddballs led by Crook himself (who also directs) as Andy and the magnificent Toby Jones as Lance. Both are middle-aged men, with what you might call ‘characterful’ faces, seeking refuge from the madding crowd by combing the landscape for ancient treasures. And at the start of this third and final series, both have more reason than ever for wanting to keep the real world at bay.

Andy hates his new job, and finds living with his mother-in-law (Dame Diana Rigg, no less, appearing with her real-life daughter, Rachael Stirling) so suffocating he’s taken up vaping ‘just so I can go and stand alone in the garden for 10 minutes’. Lance meanwhile, is struggling to reconcile his OCD tendencies with his messy, chaotic daughter, who doesn’t adhere to his high standards of geometric cheese slicing.

The episode ended with an extraordinary sequence in which the scenery literally dissolved away to show us a strange, bewitching folk history of the land across the seasons and centuries, set to a haunting madrigal by The Unthanks. Which is not something I ever recall happening on Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Ricky Gervais and Martin Freeman may have made more noise (and money) but, for me, Detectorists is the best thing to have emerged from any graduate of The Office. Unique, original and beguiling, it’s a rare treasure indeed.


TV extra:

 

Motherland

This savagely funny satire of alpha parenting – from Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan, among others – looks set to deliver on the premise of last year’s pilot, with tour de force performances from Anna Maxwell Martin as a hyperventilating mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Diane Morgan as a deadpan slummy mummy. This week it gave us the children’s party from hell, including a racist entertainer a Minion cake looked like ‘an angry sweetcorn’. Brilliant.

 

Stranger Things 2

Netflix’s tale of scary monsters and weird science in small town 80s Indiana was the surprise TV hit of 2016, and this much-hyped sequel riffs happily on the same winning formula, mixing the sci-fi horror of John Carpenter with the nostalgic yearning of early Spielberg. The joy of the show is the way it flips effortlessly between spooky and sinister and charming and good-natured, thanks in large part to the most lovable gang of juvenile leads since The Goonies.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, November 9, 2017

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