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TV Picks: 'Detectorists,' 'Portlandia'

TV Picks: 'Detectorists,' 'Portlandia'
Toby Jones, right, and Mackenzie Crook search English fields for Saxon gold in Crook's "Detectorists," now streaming via Netflix. (Jonathan Barclay)

"Detectorists" (Netflix, Acorn TV). Originally available only to stream from the niche-y Anglomaniacal Acorn TV, this deep and delightful comedy, which sat at the top of my 2015 best-of list, is now also up on Netflix -- a much-deserved instant widening of reach. Written, directed by and starring Mackenzie Crook, best known here as the wooden-eyed sailor Ragetti in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films and the wildling warg Orell on "Game of Thrones," it's a quiet, small-town comedy, set among misfit hobbyists who go off into the woods and fields with metal detectors, searching for Saxon gold but really looking to connect with something bigger and older and deeper than themselves. "I wanted it to be a love song to the English countryside," Crook told me in an interview last year, mentioning Thomas Hardy as influence; the trees and grass and passing birds all have a role to play. There's something almost Shakespearean, too, in its scope and setting: a romantic, bromantic pastoral comedy in which characters go from the town to the country and into the woods, to be translated, broadened, changed, improved or beloved.

Crook, in a less eccentric, more rounded role than other directors have tended to offer him, plays Andy, a temp worker with vague plans to return to school and pursue a degree in archeology; his vagueness extends to his relationship with his live-in schoolteacher girlfriend, Becky (Rachael Stirling, Diana Rigg's daughter, visibly); Toby Jones plays his best friend, Lance, a fork-lift driver with a strangely expensive car, and an ex-wife (Lucy Benjamin) he can't get over; various friends and enemies are well-drawn and subtly played. (It's a little bit like an old Ealing Studios comedy, stretched out and in color, or an episode of "Adventure Time," with real people and no magic.) Beautifully shot and thoughtfully paced, at a speed its subject would suggest; richly detailed; excellently played; and, let me not forget to mention, very funny.

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Fred Armisen, right, with Carrie Brownstein, faces an existential crisis when he wakes up grey in an upcoming episode of "Portlandia," whose sixth season begins Thursday, January 21.
Fred Armisen, right, with Carrie Brownstein, faces an existential crisis when he wakes up grey in an upcoming episode of "Portlandia," whose sixth season begins Thursday, January 21. (Augusta Quirk/ IFC)

"Portlandia" (IFC, Thursdays); "Portlandia Travelogue: The Brussels to Antwerp Express" (Audible.com). Hipsters on the Verge of a Midlife Crisis. The sixth season of this site-specific, location-shot sketch comedy, co-created by stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and by director Jonathan Krisel, arrives this Thursday, with all its faculties intact, but with time and age very specifically on its mind. The season premiere is set around a musical festival and the challenge it offers to people on the edge of aging out such things. In the season's second episode, Fred will wake up gray and be thrown into despair and confusion ("I am basically 32 [he's 49].... I'm into music, I walk around, have a cup of coffee, wear, like, cool clothes") and attempts to stop time; Carrie, considering motherhood and visiting an inappropriately comical gynecologist ("Arrested Development" co-creator Mitchell Hurwitz in a brilliant turn), will be told she's "a couple of years away from being an old spinster.... These are the terms people use, I don't make them up." Although the show began as an exploration of the rites and rituals of an oddball town, its scope widened quickly; rooted solidly in the close friendship between its costars -- their platonic sharing of a bedroom, with a double portrait hung between twin beds, offering a perfect visual analog -- it's become very much a story about what makes people tick and how those clocks align or don't align between them.

As an appetizer or side dish to this impending feast – depending figuratively on when you get to it – there a related audiobook, "Portlandia Traveloque: The Brussels to Antwerp Express," available free throughout the season from Audible. Ready by Armisen in the person of Candace Devereaux, co-proprietor of the series Women and Women First Bookstore – an unusually sophisticated and well-heeled version of Candace will appear in the season's fifth episode "Breaking Up," an almost perfectly straight-faced pastiche of a romantic drama -- it purports to be a breathy, self-approving erotic memoir of a "cross-country trip through Belgium": "Before French kissing became the celebrated physical manifestation of lovers around the world there was Belgian kissing; Belgian kissing was purely all upper lip; traditionally the lower lip remained motionless and morte – dead – while the tongue hid away at the very back of the mouth."

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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