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Audrey Kupferberg: Mum And Detectorists

MUM is a Britcom, complete in three seasons or eighteen episodes, starring wonderful Lesley Manville as a recent widow.  One has the feeling that, if left alone, she would be living a rather dull middle-class existence, possibly buying new lawn chairs, or a new toaster for a pick-me-up.  However, Mum – or Cathy, is never left alone.  She is surrounded, engulfed, by seven other characters who make up her world.

Six of those seven characters are family members and their partners.  They are outrageous, often hilarious, and quite frequently off-putting.  Cathy lets their near-madness slide of her back.  Even when they unintentionally insult her, she responds with a weak smile.  So irritating are her son and his girlfriend and her brother’s current lady friend, that I was about to give up on MUM after a couple episodes aired on my PBS affiliate.  What a mistake this would have been.  You see, I didn’t understand the stylized qualities of this BAFTA-winning comedy series. 

In some ways it unfolds much like a Mike Leigh film; it shows us life with an odd sort of naturalistic flavor, an hour-by-hour daily existence lived by people who often are going through emotional experiences, trying to express what they often fail to express.  Lesley Manville, recently nominated for an Oscar, is quite familiar with the Mike Leigh approach, having appeared in a number of his feature films. 

Seasons one and two deal with Cathy, often in her kitchen cooking for her entourage or washing their dirty dishes.  The zany relatives huddle around her like a herd of musk oxen who have been threatened by a predator.  But they are the predators. They may never intentionally hurt her, but they do her no good. 

Now, there is one more prominent character in MUM.  He is called Michael, and he is played by Peter Mullan.  Michael was a best pal of Cathy’s deceased husband Dave.  Michael is quieter than the others and stands on the outside of the huddled mass of family and friends.  Michael is the only other sane or normal character.  In fact, he is quite ordinary, but kind-hearted and unflappable.

All three seasons deal with the growing intensity of the relationships of all the characters, mainly the way each couple relates.  For the third and final season, creator/writer/director Stefan Golaszewski places the bunch of them in a luxury rental home for a week.  In the hands of another writer, I can imagine that all hell would break lose.  But not here, not with a lead character like Cathy, whose patience and passivity seem to be her most powerful traits.  But things do happen, and the end of the series is well worth the wait.

Another superb Britcom that is available for home viewing is DETECTORISTS, created by and starring MacKenzie Crook, and co-starring Toby Jones. Set in a quiet village in Sussex, the series follows two middle-aged friends whose hobby is metal detecting.  They belong to a detectorist club, and they live for the prospect of turning up ancient Roman gold coins and jewelry.  Each man has a private life, as well, of course.  One is in a marriage with a baby.  One is divorced with a grown daughter.  One has no money.  One is well off.  The wife who has a baby is played by Rachael Stirling who many will remember from THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE, and her real-life mother Diana Rigg appears as her on-screen mum. 

Mackenzie Crook has an easy-going comedy style.  DETECTORISTS episodes appear relatively uneventful in some ways, but the plots demonstrate details about dignity and decency among commonplace folk in a humdrum village. I believe that the three seasons produced so far of DETECTORISTS show that there is plenty of engrossing substance in everyday life.

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