Truth Seekers: Season 1 REVIEW – Spooky Scary Nick Frost

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are together again, except not really.

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It was, straightforwardly, a mistake to bill Truth Seekers as ‘the return of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’. Pegg is in it, nobody can deny that, his name’s on the credits and everything, but he appears so briefly it’s nearly at cameo level. Moreover, it just makes you think of their glory days: Spaced and the Cornetto trilogy of Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and At World’s End. At World’s End is the obvious flaw in that trilogy – its Return Of The Jedi, if you will – and Truth Seekers tends to hover around that level.

In spite of that, Spaced is probably the closest point of comparison here – not simply because it’s a TV project, but because of the sheer density of knowing, glance-to-camera, nods to pop culture. Shaun and Fuzz were no slouches in that department, but they were very much ‘doing’ the zombie flick and the buddy-cop flick respectively. Spaced, and Truth Seekers, are working with a far broader spectrum of pop culture, that much should be obvious here when they actually go to a comic-con.

Spaced, however, was made by and for aimless twenty-somethings around the turn of the millennium. Truth Seekers carries a very different tone – closer, if anything, to classic British sci-fi Doctor Who. Frost’s character is, like the Doctor, a rationalist with a love of the whimsical, who runs about in a big blue box and accumulates a party of lovable weirdoes. They’ve got the technobabble, the cold opens, the way all supernatural events seem to take place in Britain, once you start seeing the parallels it’s hard to stop. And it’s impossible to imagine Frost and Pegg didn’t have Doctor Who in mind as they were writing it, given that one of the party goes to that comic-con as a dalek.

Unfortunately, its shorter runtime as compared to Doctor Who – each episode barely grazes half an hour – hems it in a bit. Supporting characters don’t have a hope in hell of getting much serious development in before their thirty minutes are up, especially once the overarching plotlines get rolling. Most have little opportunity to do more than explain “hello, I’m (x), I do (y)”. As such, their jokes have to be especially broad, and in a show that leans that direction anyway, this is it at its broadest – which can work, but more often ends up feeling a bit flabby.

This is a particular shame because of the calibre of guests Truth Seekers has attracted – who were probably, like the audience, tempted in by the thought of a Pegg-Frost reunion. Julian ‘Mindhorn’ Barratt and Malcolm ‘Caligula’ McDowell at least recur enough to properly see what they can do, but people like Morgana Robinson and the actor Kevin Eldon are given shamefully short shrift in otherwise promising roles, blinking in and out of existence as much as any of the ghosts present. And we’ve been over the issues with Simon Pegg, who here is essentially Charlie in Charlie’s Angels – he gives the missions and is only rarely seen.

Meanwhile, Frost’s menagerie, our central group of protagonists, come off a lot like sharks in that they have to keep moving, otherwise they die. When they have something to do, it’s all fine, but any moments of downtime are very hard to fill. In such moments they tend to fumble about a bit, and they never seem less like a chummy pseudo-family and more like actors who happen to be sharing a set. This, perhaps, is why practically everyone has a dark secret or mysterious backstory, so they can keep the cogs turning no matter what.

The spooky side of Truth Seekers is on firmer ground, as you might hope. Having seen a lot of horror movies in their time, Pegg and Frost should know all the tricks by now, and Truth Seekers finds a nice balance – certainly not so full-on as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but like its spiritual parent Doctor Who it could well make children cover their eyes in terror and hide behind the sofa. The horror, too, is a bit constrained by the runtime, having to work fast to whip up a good atmosphere, but it does at least never find itself fighting with the comedy strand of the show. The two facets work together, rather than having to jostle for position.

In an interview earlier this year, Pegg noted – with Truth Seekers in mind – that “the key with horror comedy is to take the horror completely seriously and allow the comedy to exist adjacent to it”, a method which paid dividends in Shaun Of The Dead, and one which you can see at work here too. But as the comedy itself goes, in many ways it’s a tale of missed opportunities. Ghost hunting is an eminently mockable pastime, the domain of either cynical grifters or the depressingly credulous – and Truth Seekers treats it with exactly that kind of credulity throughout.

(And speaking of credulity, call me paranoid, but there’s something I don’t trust about any Amazon Prime show which depicts a large tech company as benign and friendly.)

Perhaps mocking ghost hunters as a profession would have flown too close to crossing the streams, fine, but taking this tack means it misses out on a great, yawning, open goal of potential jokes, and no ‘hey, I understood that’ reference to The Shining is going to come anywhere near that level. There’s the same open goal when the characters are putting their exploits up on Youtube – again, it’s something easy to find the jokes in and the show doesn’t even try.

Ultimately, Truth Seekers is a lightweight show. That’s no bad thing in and of itself, not all television has to be The Wire or Dr. Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent Of Man. However, even the lightest, most delicate, powder-puffiest presentation in the world can have iconic, memorable parts to it. Some of the creepier moments, like those involving dead dogs or burn victims, might linger in the mind, but while it’s enjoyable enough in the moment, there’s not really anything original enough on offer here to make Truth Seekers stand out from the pack.

READ NEXT: 10 Best Horror Comedy Movies You Should Watch

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truth seekers nick frost Emma D'Arcy Samson Kayo
A cheerful enough romp, but one that never makes the most of what it has.