One does not need to know much about television of the movies to know a good story told well. Detectorists follows a simple theme: two men adrift in life bond over their hobby of using metal detectors to search for treasure. In the process, they discover what they have been seeking is just under their feet.
In this theme, Detectorists comes from a long line of English writing that emphasizes the qualities of real life which are hidden beneath the bustle of a modern world. We can hear echoes of Wordsworth in the simple contrast between the utter pointlessness and confusion of required life activities and the peace and clarity these men find while wandering through the wild English countryside.
A running gag is that the name of the machine used to find buried metal is a metal detector, where someone who uses one is a detectorist. No one outside of a small group grasps the distinction, and tends to call the men metal detectors, to be corrected each time. This seems to highlight how little respect for the human is found in a world where both men have menial jobs and unstable family situations, not to mention zero reference to having ever had parents or extended family. This show does an excellent job of showing us the isolation of our supposed Utopia, then cutting to scenes of wild grasses, flowers, insects and sprawling vistas of open land.
Hapless, the two find nothing more than junk — metal leftovers from the industrial age. But what they seek, and affirm time and again, is a connection to the distant past. One of the two main characters opines repeatedly that he wants to touch something from the Saxon or Roman age, the time before the now. This urge propels them out to wander the hills and fields in their free time, seeming improved for the quiet and focus that it gives them.
The series theme song gives a hint at what they seek and find:
Will you search through the lonely earth for me?
Climb through the briar and bramble?
I’ll be your treasure.
I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind.
I knew the call of all the song birds. They sang all the wrong words.
I’m waiting for you. I’m waiting for you.
Will you swim through the briny sea for me?
Roll along the ocean’s floor?
I’ll be your treasure.
I’m with the ghosts of the men who can never sing again.
There’s a place follow me, where a love lost at sea,
Is waiting for you. Is waiting for you.
As with any plot device of this type, the audience becomes increasingly aware that the treasure is a real-life metaphor. These men seek it as a symbol of what they want, but what they desire is found inward. The suggestion lingers in the air that they are steadily finding it through family, friendship, honesty, history, nature and a love of their homeland, England, even as it crumbles around them.