I first cottoned onto the BBC4 comedy Detectorists while flicking through the channels with my dad. We'd just finished watching Die Hard; it was a proper boy's night in. So we swapped the uber alpha male John McClane for two anti-alphas in the shape of Mackenzie Crook's Andy and Toby Jones' Lance, and in doing so we switched on to one of the very best depictions of modern masculinity in recent memory.
Written and created by Crook – yes, he played Gareth in The Office – Detectorists returns to our screens this evening for a third series. The first two have seen Andy and Lance bicker, squabble and laugh their way through various fallow fields, with their trusty metal detectors always by their sides. They're charming, disarming company, and their patter of jokes and occasional emotional confession reminds us that we men are much happier to reveal our vulnerabilities when we've got a platform of light banter and common interests to build upon.
Now, I'm not saying only men should watch Detectorists, but Andy and Lance's endearing realism meant that both me and my dad instantly related to them during that post-Die Hard TV session – and we're a generation apart. It seems that male bonding among peers hasn't changed much in the past 50 years after all.
Here are those stages of male friendship, as told by Andy and Lance on the show.
The small talk
All it takes for Lance and Andy to start talking is a simple question: "Did you see University Challenge last night?"
Small talk is the fuel of human interaction and what makes Crook's writing so strong (the show won a BAFTA for best scripted comedy in 2015) is that it nails these opening salvos between the pair with aplomb. Men don't go into a conversation all guns blazing and reveal their darkest secrets from the off. Instead Lance and Andy veil their issues behind self-effacing jokes and talk about the intricacies of metal detecting, creating some of the most enjoyable plot expositions since Game of Thrones decided to litter them among gaudy sex scenes.
Bonding over a shared interest
Upon my first day at senior school, I was sat quivering in a hall with a hundred strangers. Then came the soothing question, an olive branch sent from the land of bloke. "What football team do you support?" I soon found out that the person sitting next to me was also a Manchester United fan (I dread to think how lonely senior school would have been had I supported someone like Hartlepool). Friendship summarily blossomed.
As you grow up, the chances are your interests shift, and become more niche: maybe you love the early 1970's glam-rock scene; maybe, like Andy and Lance, Roman coins and re-runs of Time Team are your thing. Either way, men need that ground at the middle of the Venn diagram to really get to know one another.
When John Lennon wrote the track 'Jealous Guy' in 1971, we're quite sure he wasn't talking about his detectorist pals. But we can all relate to the jealousy Andy feels in season two, when Lance is off meeting up with a mystery woman. We've been there when your mate all of a sudden gets a new partner in their life and goes AWOL for a few months, leaving you staring out into the rain tearily singing Celine Dion.
The same happened to Lance in series one, when Andy went metal detecting with a new partner. It resulted in their esoteric contest for the Danebury Metal Detecting Club presidency.
Don't worry, they'll return to each other when the honeymoon period is over and the new FIFA is out.
Forming a band
Forming a band with your mates is kind of like giving birth, only instead of being lumbered with a tiny human it's a sub-par Whitesnake cover. The episode where the pair prepare for the open mic at the local pub, The Two Brewers, is one of the show's sweetest, as they hone their song about Lance's unrequited love for his ex-wife.
Both know the song will never be heard outside The Brewers, but to them it means the world.
Quite like the jealous guy stage, only not always linked to a potential romantic partner. The growing apart stage can be instigated by a new job, moving away, or, in the case of Andy, a child. Lance initially takes to Andy's newfound fatherhood with confusion and possibly jealousy; but as ever with good buddies, it only takes time for the rupture to heal. Soon Andy is desperately seeking the solace of his old friend and the metal detecting that brought them together.
Giving – and ignoring – advice
Neither Andy nor Lance is really in a strong position to give life advice. Andy stumbles from one relationship issue to the next, while Lance pines over his ex-wife, the owner of a New Age holistic shop who ran off with the local Pizza Hut manager (played to comedy perfection by former Eastenders actress Lucy Benjamin). It still doesn't stop them from attempting to impart their pearls of wisdom on each other, as any best friend will try to do after a few ales down at The Two Brewers. Not that it will always be listened to, mind...
Taking the mick out of others
Nothing strengthens a male friendship like victory over a common enemy during a war of words. Andy and Lance revel in making fun of the other detectorists who come to their village looking for a piece of the 6th century Anglo-Saxon action, solidifying their quirky partnership.
That joke isn't funny anymore
"Have I ever told you about that beautiful old battle-axe I once found," reminisces Lance. "Yeah you married her," Andy snipes back. This simple gag shows us something very important about the detectoring duo: they go way back.
You know your old mates comedy routines like the back of our hand, and while you now greet their Peter Kay "garlic bread" impression with a disdainful eye-roll (I mean it is 2017 after all), you probably still have a wry chuckle inside every time.
Nowadays it's a Facebook meme or a blooper on Youtube. For me it's quotes from 'the worst movie ever made' The Room. But the principle has always remained the same –much like Andy and Lance's enduring friendship.