Stay Tuned: And now for something different … British comedy on Acorn TV
British situation comedy is certainly distinct from its American counterpart and for many American viewers, myself included, it can be an acquired taste. Pacing is often slower, the characters are usually quirkier and the humor is mostly subtle, with a build-up that can require patience. When it’s done well, the result is charming, as it is in “Detectorists,” a comedy about a pair of off-beat metal detecting buffs.
Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones) are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, a group of eccentric metal detecting enthusiasts who search for historical treasure in the English countryside. In season two, Andy has completed an archaeology degree but is unemployed and Lance is looking for someone special in his life.
The series is about relationships, disappointments, expectations, small joys and friendship. The action focuses on the daily lives of Andy and Lance as they search for value in the ground and in their lives. Skillfully constructed as characters, Andy and Lance feel authentic. They have familiar worries and their conversations sound real, as they try to help each other find solutions to their problems. A scene where Andy drops his baby son off at his mother-in-law’s house for the day so perfectly captures what an awkward interaction between an out of work son-in-law and a disapproving mother-in-law would look and sound like, it’s as if you are spying on them from the bushes. Andy is a likable misfit and when he quietly struggles to convince his mother-in-law to keep his son on a feeding schedule that he has worked so hard to establish, it’s both funny and sympathetic.
“Detectorists” is a series that will make you chuckle but probably not laugh-out loud, which according to another comedy called “Very British Problems,” is just the way the British like it. In this three-part series narrated by Julie Walters, famous British men and women, from actors to comedians to sports stars, discuss the awkward social situations that come from the British understanding of politeness. Based on a popular Twitter account with more than a million followers, the episodes focus on various rules that are integral to life in the U.K.
The series is a mix of archival footage and talking heads and some of the “problems” are funnier than others. One of the better ones is the “pre-emptive apology” or the tendency to say “sorry” as part of every day speech. (“Sorry. Have you got the time?”). Walters quotes a study that says the average British person uses the word “sorry” eight times a day. The comedians do their take on it and it works. What works less successfully is the problem of “ruining your reputation at the office Christmas party” — something I’m sure is not exclusive to the British.
“Very British Problems” points out the real life quirkiness that “Detectorists” fictionalizes. In the case of the latter, it’s an oddball world worth getting to know.
“Detectorists” and “Very British Problems” are on subscription streaming service Acorn TV. “Detectorists” will be released on DVD in June.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.