Truth Seekers (Amazon Prime) is an exciting new programme for adolescents of all ages, as it reunites Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in a sitcom for the first time since Spaced, which finished in 2001. Where that series was basically Friends for people who can rank the Star Trek films, powered by an anarchic charm that would go on to find a global audience with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Truth Seekers is a horror-comedy with a slower, more traditional rhythm. The release has been timed for Halloween, but it has been several years in the making, and Frost has said it wasn’t always an easy process.
Written by Pegg and Frost, with James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, its eight half-hour episodes star Frost as Gus Roberts, a thick-bearded internet repair man who leads a double life as an amateur paranormal investigator. He chugs around in his van, visiting old ladies’ homes, spooking mansion hotels and abandoned hospitals, then whips out his ghost detector and films YouTube videos of his exploits.
The series is a loving homage to The X Files, transposed to little England. In Gus’s mind, even the slightest coincidence or strange occurrence is evidence of the supernatural or a conspiracy. Pegg is reduced to a supporting role, at least in the early episodes, as Dave, Gus’s creepy boss, while Timewasters’ Samson Kayo plays his main sidekick, a sensitive soul rather tediously called Elton John.
The horror works better than the comedy. There are genuinely creepy moments, with zombies and plague doctors. Most of the laughs, however, come from the supporting roles, especially Malcolm McDowell as Gus’s angry father, Richard, and Susie Wokoma as Elton’s agoraphobic sister, Helen. Frost is as natural a comic as they come, but he is at his best when swearing at exactly the right moment, rather than carrying an entire series on his shoulders.
Gus is motivated by grief, and Frost can do sensitive, too, but Truth Seekers sometimes struggles to achieve the right balance between its different elements. You can understand why they wanted to try something new, rather than play it safe, but director Edgar Wright’s absence looms large. Frost and Pegg were always part of a trio rather than a duo. Without Wright’s fast cuts and flourishes, and without the same chemistry between the leads, the dialogue sometimes drags.
Despite all this, I found myself slowly charmed, mainly because Frost is so easy to watch, and the characters grow into their roles. Although he and Pegg only have limited scenes together, watching them spar will always be joyous. They encapsulate so perfectly that youthful kind of friendship that is almost like a love affair, where you finish each other’s sentences and every exchange is an in-joke. The supernatural is an obvious vehicle to investigate loss and loneliness, but Truth Seekers is also about the alienating effects of technology. What is YouTube, after all, but a box full of ghosts?