‘Truth Seekers’: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost Have Spooky Fun Taking Jabs at Ghost Hunting Culture
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have teamed up again, this time to poke some fun at the culture of ghost hunters armed with video cameras in Amazon’s “Truth Seekers.” Pegg and Froast bring to life what must be the average fantasy of every aspiring YouTuber hoping their obsessions will finally expose something grand, and thus grant them the ability to dump their day jobs. Their approach is to bask in some joyous satire while trying to pull off another one of those plots involving portals and cults.
Gus Roberts (Frost) by day works as a broadband installer, answering the call to make sure the citizens of his corner of the UK all have constant internet service. He’s the best they have over at SMYLE, the company he works for under Dave (Pegg). Thinking it’s time for Gus to train the next generation of master installers, Dave assigns him a partner, Elton John (Samson Kayo). Gus hates the idea of being a mentor but he reluctantly takes on Elton. Their first assignment proves to offer more than just setting up broadband when an elderly client seems to live in a haunted house. But haunted by whom, her dead husband or their dead dog? The case gives Gus a chance to reveal his true passion. He runs a YouTube channel, “Truth Seekers,” where he posts videos of his excursions into the paranormal. Elton finds them slightly unconvincing, but with his gadgets meant to detect wandering ghouls, Gus is convinced he’s on to something. Soon the pair’s paths cross with Astrid (Emma D’Arcy), who after seeing a vision of her mother in an apartment surrounded by flames, is convinced she is being chased by paranormal entities.
“Truth Seekers” is a perfect example of what amounts to lite humor. It never reaches the kind of wild energy or satire of Pegg and Frost’s other collaborations, like their cult classics with Edgar Wright, “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead.” This show is more about on-the-nose jokes and throwaway gags. Elton’s name for example becomes a running punchline for most of the season to the point where we roll our eyes to say, “Ok, we get it.” There’s a particular sweetness to the writing when moments are just about Gus and Elton, much of it due to Frost’s hilarious performance. When detached from the convoluted plot Gus is a warmhearted jab at those obsessive online personas you find hunting down ghosts and UFOs, convinced their YouTube videos can unlock vast government conspiracies or evidence of other realms. Naturally Gus is single, living alone with his cranky dad, Richard (Malcolm McDowell), who later takes on a bigger role in a developing plot involving cultists and a solar eclipse, but in the early episodes provides grumpy comic relief. Elton also has satirical potential, particularly with the character of his sister, Helen (Susan Wokoma), a cosplayer always stressing over some missing piece for her latest get-up.
When “Truth Seekers” is just about what these characters represent it’s a wickedly good time. Less engaging are the longer form storylines Pegg and Frost force on the idea. If they had stuck to just making fun of the episodic nature of reality TV ghost hunters or internet sleuths this would have been a perfectly fine anthology series, like a fun riff on “The X-Files.” But for whatever reason they feel the show needs to have some overly cooked arc. Astrid joins the crew after they help her fight against her ghosts, with the help of a psychic friend and a book of spells made from human flesh (you always need one of those in these stories), and then they all face off against Dr. Peter Toynbee (Julian Barratt), who bills himself as the greatest genius to have ever walked the Earth. He himself is a humorous poke at self-help gurus, obsessed with a blood ritual under a full moon to open some vast portal. His scheme will connect most of the show’s previous cases, including a “Twilight Zone”-style storyline involving souls trapped in a World War II radio transmitter. This whole idea would have been great for one, haunting episode, but it becomes a rather corny side piece to the whole Toynbee plot, which doesn’t even truly kick off until well into the midway point of the season. Pegg’s own Dave, who worked well as the anxiety-prone boss you need in any office space, also gets pulled into the wider scheme and it feels very forced and unnecessary.
The first half of “Truth Seekers” is the most enjoyable, when Gus and Elton are getting to know each other and go from weird case to weird case. It’s a fun time when we get to see ghost pets trapped inside dangling skeletons or hospital wards full of roaming spirits. The internet and cable television are full of shows where ghost hunters dryly and breathlessly take us on tours of abandoned asylums or hotels. Pegg and Frost want to chuckle at it a bit and should have kept chuckling all the way to the final episode. If tempted, seek out the first chapters of this romp, they truly know how to make you jump and laugh at the same time.
“Truth Seekers” season one begins streaming Oct. 30 on Amazon Prime Video.