Detecting Immortality

 Why did I watch a show about two saddos schlepping around an unappealing part of the British countryside, finding soda tabs and 10 pence coins with metal detectors? Why did I write about it? Originally, I was curious about how a premise like this could be compelling. I was surprised and enlightened. Because it contains so much more than the offbeat, slightly ridiculous idea. Detectorists, created, written and directed by Mackenzie Crook, starring himself and Toby Jones, is a marvel.

To begin, the theme song is magical and as beautifully organic to the show as I have almost ever heard. I was enchanted going in, already. This tiny show is about the history of the world. It is about who we are. The theme song lyrics, “I’ve felt the touch of the kings, and the breath of the wind…” is a lyrical hymn to nature, to our smallness on this planet, to true treasures: loyalty, love, companionship, connection. Nothing else that lasts is that important.’Will you search through the lonely earth for me
Climb through the briar and bramble?”British soil is ancient and deep and rich. Each millennia of which this dark earth has been part is a thing of impossible scope to wrap your head around. These two sensitive men and their divining rods are seeking out any piece, any shard of a civilization far removed from this one, to touch some of the enormity of this. Of course, they are, above all, looking for gold. History may be mind blowing, but gold is real and necessary.

Their modesty and lack of posturing tells of their awe, their bone-deep understanding that they are part of something bigger than themselves. As they are stepping on Roman ruins, their lives are small and mortal in the grand scope. They take things less seriously due in part to this, and they can be seen by others as flimsy excuses for human beings. In reality, there is a piety to them, to their quiet daily dedication to finding that connection, that link to another moment in the veins of the earth. This is their essence.

The pride they take in what they do is endearing. Whenever they are called “detectors,” they correct the person, explaining that detectors are the device used by detectorists. This is scoffed at by most of the world, but it is important to them because they do deserve the title. They do something important.
This is not just a British story, but universal lore that runs through all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not. We know about the finite. We grasp it more when we hit the time of life where Andy and Toby are, in our forties. I think McKenzie Crook used this unpretentious, quiet show to put his mark on time, his moment on earth that can be uncovered one day. This may be the story of how he came to terms with mortality. Crook made two seasons and did not want to go any further, despite the fact that the show had acquired a following. He told his story in two short seasons and one special.

Another point is the idea of life as a journey, not a fixed place. In all the time Toby and Andy find nothing but crap, complaining incessantly, they are living history. Those 10 pence coins will be more valuable the Roman ones are now…

.

.

.

*SPOILER ALERT*

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

At the end, Lance’s  find is a holy grail among detectorists and the achievement of this long-term, life-consuming goal was supposed to lead to some sort of release from all the reasons that kept him detecting. It was, in reality, an anti-climax. Once it was in the museum, it failed to do anything but sit there.  He realizes, I believe, that the companionship you find with another seeker is, literally, worth more than gold. That history is living and there is always more worth seeking. That you can’t cheat time, but you can make the most out of the content of your life.  Make the best of the precious time you do have.

In addition to all this existentialism, there is the matter of just how incredibly funny this show is. The wit is dry as paper and quick.  It is absurd and self-deprecating in the best way. A realistic view of a difficult life, lightened by the ability to skewer anything with razor sharp wit. Bullshit and affectation are not tolerated. Quiet and unassuming Mr. Crook may seem, but he is brilliant. While I may be pondering immortality, this also made me laugh in a way few shows have. It is absurd and wildly clever in a Pythonesque way. I would be surprised if McKenzie Crook hasn’t spent many hours watching the Monty Python lads. This rare weaving of fun, artistic depth, flawless acting and spot-on writing creates a rare tapestry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s