“Truth Seekers” is the kind of show that seems to thrive on all that is mild, despite playing with two genres that are inherently tricky to do well. This horror-comedy series just wants to make you chuckle, and with regards to its potential scares, only a little anxious. But it's so resoundingly slack and lazily written that neither its horror or comedy have that vital sense of timing, or danger. It’s a “Ghostbusters”-like saga with a stale sense of humor, with only a little more creativity when it comes to the actual spooky stuff.
Created by Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Nat Saunders and James Serafinowicz, “Truth Seekers” begins with an internet service installer named Gus Roberts (Frost), who is very good at his job for a company called SMYLE. After receiving glowing praise by his boss (Pegg in a limited role and a bad hairpiece), Gus is assigned a clumsy new partner (Samson Kayo), who goes by the name of Elton John. If you think that’s a cheesy joke, “Truth Seekers” will come back to it again and again, and then try to build on it, and that’s about what this series finds funny.
But “Truth Seekers” is in the business of supernatural investigations, as that is what Gus does in his spare time under the YouTube channel that gives this series its name. The first episode has Gus and Elton heading to an ominous mansion in need of both internet service and some investigating, as it happens to be haunted. Their investigation leads to a spooky secret room, a skeleton, and an old woman who might be hiding something. That becomes a running theme throughout the show, as characters caught up in this collection of supernatural scares are also trying to look away from their past. Gus in particular struggles to mourn his wife who was murdered years ago.
The adventures of Gus and Elton, sometimes with a camera in hand, lead to a type dull mix of different supernatural presences, as unique as they might be—like a radio that keeps cryptically repeating the same number, which has its own backstory explored in episode two. Each episode of “Truth Seekers” has a type of flashback horror scene, which plays out later as with the story of a woman named Astrid (Emma D’Arcy) who has an image of a flaming woman in the beginning of episode one. She only joins up with Gus and Elton by episode three, hoping that she can learn what exactly she’s being haunted by, while also helping Gus and Elton investigate the paranormal.
The series is merely held together by how bad it isn’t—the characters aren’t annoying but just under-developed, each with their basic quirks and game performances from a cast that makes you wish the script tried harder. Even with some of the twists it throws in later, there isn’t much to characters like Gus and Elton aside from their generic psychological hurdles, and the tacky comedy they become conduits for. "Truth Seekers" can’t even make the prospect of Gus’ YouTube presence all that funny or interesting, despite the convenient way his two passions for internet service and the supernatural combine in nearly each episode, and set him up to say something silly on-camera.
You’ll also wish they did more with characters like Elton’s shy sister Helen (Susan Wokoma), and Gus’ free-spirited father Richard (Malcolm McDowell). In brief bits, you can almost see where the script could take them to more dynamic material, but “Truth Seekers” just doesn’t have the wit for it. As with McDowell, it would rather make comedy’s millionth joke about slow stair lifts, and accidental video filters. McDowell's character is meant to be shown as out of touch, but it’s not funny when he’s no more out of touch than the show is.
There’s a much stronger story here in a shorter presentation (two hours, tops), especially as the teased supernatural forces do make you curious about what's going on here, and the series shows off some clever plotting. “Truth Seekers” plays with the supernatural sense of a “signal” that feels inspired, but I can’t recommend a show based on figures you only see for ten seconds at a time.
Especially as its plot builds the story of a dangerous mystic known as Dr. Peter Toynbee, “Truth Seekers” keeps calling for comparisons that it can’t beat—that of Edgar Wright movies, the ones like "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" that helped put co-stars Pegg and Frost on the comedic map. “Truth Seekers” tries to get by as a minor version of their collaborations, and falls apart when you compare the visions between the films they made with Wright and whatever this is supernatural mush is supposed to be from director Jim Field Smith. “Truth Seekers” feels to be more of the point-and-shoot school of filmmaking, whereas Pegg and Wright had their comedic timing as lovable underdogs built by the sharp ingenuity of Wright’s shooting and cutting. But even without the previous works of Pegg and Frost haunting it, “Truth Seekers” is aggressively forgettable.
All of season one screened for review. "Truth Seekers" is available on Amazon on October 30