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Detectorists returns to unearth more comic gold – review

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 08/11/2017 By Michael Hogan
a man standing in front of a table © Provided by The Telegraph

For a worrying moment at the start of Detectorists (BBC Four), I thought I was watching The Apprentice on BBC One by mistake. There was a helicopter shot of the shiny London skyline, before the camera cut to a grey-suited, gimlet-eyed estate agent type, striding purposefully down a corporate corridor. Was he about to be fired by finger-pointing Lord Sugar?

Thankfully, this was just a prelude to our usual metal-detecting mirth. We briefly visited the HQ of “Photon Harvest Solar Electricity”, who planned to build England’s third-largest solar power farm near the tranquil town of Danebury, where our amateur archaeologist heroes ply their loot-hunting trade. There may be trouble ahead. 

Written by, directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook (the sparrow-faced jobsworth Gareth in The Office), this quiet sitcom gem has been a slow-burning hit: breaking BBC Four ratings records and deservedly winning a Bafta. It’s been off-air for two years, hence why this third series was feverishly awaited by fans.  

Toby Jones standing next to a river © Provided by The Telegraph

As we returned to the sun-dappled, soothingly somnambulant East Anglian countryside, Andy (Crook) was living with his waspish mother-in-law (the mighty Diana Rigg). He longed for space of his own to potter and tinker: “Who said ‘Any man past the age of 30 without a shed can consider himself a failure’? Titchmarsh, probably.” Andy took up vaping, just to stand alone in the garden for 10 minutes. 

A few streets away, the “sad bachelor pad” bliss of Lance (Toby Jones) had been shattered by his teenage daughter. Both friends felt domestically trapped. As ever, their hobby was their escape: bumbling around fields in search of buried booty, punctuated by philosophical chats over sandwiches and a Thermos. They pondered who they’d invite to a fantasy dinner party (not Stephen Fry or Jesus – they’re inundated with imaginary invites). They sniggered at schoolboy innuendos about “moist conditions”, “getting your tool in” and “deep penetration”. 

The episode signed off with an oddly affecting time-lapse sequence, showing the trinkets they missed by mere metres being buried by Saxons, set to a haunting pastoral soundtrack by folk sisters The Unthanks. 

a man holding a baseball bat © Provided by The Telegraph

The naturalistic writing captured conversational rhythms, and the performances were all nicely restrained. The comic chemistry between Jones and Crook was a bittersweet delight: communicated via deadpan exchanges and expressive faces, their bond recalled Porridge’s Fletch and Godber, or Terry and Bob in The Likely Lads – long-suffering but inseparable, bickering but affectionate. This was a note-perfect, wistful and warm-hearted portrayal of male friendship.

It’s almost compulsory in Detectorists reviews to say the show unearthed comic gold. Indeed it did. If you’re yet to join the DMDC (Danebury Metal Detecting Club), treat yourself. Treasures await. 

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