Oscar Wilde, the go-to source for pithy putdowns and astute aphorisms, once said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” For certain television shows, there is only one thing worse than not being renewed – and that is being renewed.
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The list of TV shows that have overstayed their welcome is a long and depressing one. Think “Friends,” for example, a show so popular that its creators squeezed 10 full seasons out of it, long after the plotline and the jokes had worn thin. Think “The Office” – the U.S. version, of course – which limped along for nine seasons, even after the lead character had the good sense to jump ship.
Even “Seinfeld,” often citedas the greatest television sitcom ever, dragged on for so long that its main creative force, Larry David, left the production team to pursueother projects.
Bowing out gracefully is not something that one readily associates with television. Usually, a show will only end when it has lost its popular following or, in a more recent development, when one of its stars is uncovered as a serial sex pest. “House of Cards,” which many critics argue should have been wrapped up at least two seasons ago, was only put out to pasture because of the allegations against its star, Kevin Spacey.
Some shows, however, have the good sense and taste to bring themselves to a timely end. The original British version of “The Office,” starring Ricky Gervais, ended after just two seasons and John Cleese famously made just a dozen episodes of “Fawlty Towers,” his mid-1970s, post-Monty Python sitcom. Both of these shows managed to avoid the trap that other shows fell into headlong and, it seems, knowingly.
The dangers of over-extending should be obvious. “Happy Days,” the hugely popular American teen show from the 1970s and 1980s, earned itself a place in the television hall of infamy with an episode in which the star of the show jumped over a shark while waterskiing. Ever since then, when a television show becomes ridiculous, it’s known as “jumping the shark.”
It is always a bittersweet moment, therefore, when a beloved show announces that the current season will be the last. On the one hand, fans are disappointed to discover that their favorite show will soon disappear from their lives; but on the other, viewers are left wanting more – which is perhaps the greatest accolade of all.
One show that will be coming to an end when the current six-episode season concludes is “Detectorists,” written and directed for the BBC by Mackenzie Crook, who also stars in it.
“Detectorists” is a gentle, sweet comedy about Andy and Lance, two members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club. Every weekend, the two friends take their metal detectors into the fields surrounding their small town in the English countryside, dreaming of discovering ancient Roman coins or other valuable finds.
Eagle-eyed viewers will, of course, recognize Crook from his role in the British version of “The Office,” while his co-star, Toby Jones, shot to fame playing Truman Capote in the 2006 biopic “Infamous.”
Despite being aired in the United Kingdom on BBC Four – the least-watched of the state-run channels – “Detectorists” has built up a large cadre of fans and was rewarded in 2015 with a BAFTA – the British equivalent of the Emmys – for best sitcom.
A gentle pace
Like so many British shows (and unlike so many of their American counterparts) “Detectorists” is about ordinary, unexceptional and – let’s be honest about it – not-beautiful people. Similarly, its humor is so understated and subtle that it could easily be missed by viewers who have come to rely on canned laughter to tell them what’s funny.
Crook’s dialogue doesn’t ping with jokes. It doesn’t need to. Viewers are charmed by the characters and by their very genuine conversations. There is warmth to “Detectorists” and the writing that allows the characters to breathe and provides the jokes with a nurturing atmosphere.
Instead of bombarding viewers with rapid-fire gags, Crook’s writing adopts the gentle pace of the English countryside and allows his characters to exchange meaningful glances that are often funnier than any sardonic aside could be.
The supporting cast, too, is exquisite. Fans of “Game of Thrones” will delight at seeing Diana Rigg as Andy’s mother-in-law, after her show-stopping performance as the wise but cantankerous Olenna Tyrell.
And there’s even an Israeli connection: Israeli-born actress Orion Ben plays Varde, who, despite appearing in every episode of the show to date, has only had a couple of lines of dialogue. It’s a running joke in the show that Varde rarely speaks, and when she does, is quickly silenced by the other characters, telling her to “Let someone else get a word in.”
Rather than mourn the passing of another great TV show, I propose we celebrate all those writers and actors who had the good sense to quit while they were ahead, who resisted the temptation to take another paycheck and, in so doing, saved their shows from the cardinal sin of overkill. “Detectorists” is buried treasure: you might have to dig a little deeper than usual to unearth its joys, but when you do, it’s totally worth it.