Detectorists: Small Screen Treasure Hunters Find the Heart of TV's Golden Age
Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones are likely two of the most familiar, and least recognizable, of the great english actors to American eyes. So it's no surprise that their lovely little addition to TV's alleged golden age may not have found it's way to your tablet yet.
Detectorists, created, written, directed by, and starring the seeming secretly badass Crook looks, feels, and flows more like an under the radar SXSW darling than the half hour BBC comedy that it technically it is. It's the story of Andy (Crook) and best friend Lance (Jones), two small town idiosyncrats on a quest for buried treasure. Set in the rural english countryside, it's about as far from an Indiana Jones picture as you can get. There's no swashbuckling, forgotten maps, lost curses, or indigenous babes. Just two guys, a run-of-the-mill farm, and a pair of metal detectors.
To make this clear I should probably summon the actors' faces to your minds. Crook is either best known as the Dwight Schrut character, but on the English Office, or the skinny glass eyed comic relief of the Pirates of the Carribean films. Toby Jones, in my opinion, has some of the strangest luck of any film actor working today. He once played Truman Capote, opposite Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig, unfortunately it was the year Philip Seymour Hoffman did the same. As if that isn't enough for one life time, a few years later he was cast as Master of Horror Alfred Hitchcock, against Sienna Miller's Tippi Hendrin in Julian Jerrold's (Kinky Boots. Brideshead Revisited. And one of the most underrated period piece directors working today's) complex look at their infamous relationship during Hitchcock's creation of The Birds. Needless to say it was just when Anthony Hopkins was stepping into the same role. You (might) recognize him as mad Captain America scientist Arnim Zola, or a Dr. Who baddie.
But this entire show centers around these two oddballs combing the english country side with metal detectors (not to be confused with the people who use the tools, known as 'detectorists'). They're convinced there's a massive saxon burial beneath a local kook's field and with the help of a few other "detectorist's," shenanigan's ensue.
There's mystery and history, a rival detecting club and romance. But over the course of the two seasons available on Netflix (and a final third now on the BBC) it is the earnestness and surprisingly cinematic scope of these two films (they're far more two small, long movies, than two seasons of television, but we say that a lot these days) that make Detectorists a work that really is special.
Set to a surprisingly emotional yet perfect score lead by Folk-Rocker turned actor Johnny Flynn's pitch perfect theme song, if you can't make it out to whatever hot indie festival's in your timezone, Detectorists'll hit all the right beats.
And if the series leads you deeper into the Johnny Flynn cannon all the better. Though he only has a brief cameo here as a local open mic heartthrob, Flynn's set to become a real arthouse darling. Sure you might recognize him from the questionably titled series Scrotal Recall (now Love Sick on Netflix), he's popped up or led with Anne Hathaway (Song One), Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), and last year's Genius as the young Albert Einstein to Geoffrey Rush's envisioning of the icon. But it's his music that'll keep you coming back for more.
The "golden age" was supposed to make room for sweeping narratives and small screen auteurs, and as much as I suppose some version of that's happened, I can't think of much (or anything) on TV written, directed by, and starring a single mind, not just a "creator" overseeing a production from on high. And it seems an inescapable fact that it's this singularity, this filmmakers structure given a tv's show's outlet and resources, that make Detectorists perhaps the purest embodiment of the brightest parts of the small screen's latest "golden age."
Taylor A. Purdee is an actor, filmmaker, folksinger, and editor of the Yippie Ki-Ay! Do Cinema. His upcoming film Killian & the Comeback Kids is a bit of a folk-rock musical also set in summery cornfields, but we don't think that means he's biased in the case of Detectorists.
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