Monday, October 26, 2020

Truth Seekers, from Nick Frost, Simon Pegg & Amazon

A telecom/internet company that actually provides good service? This is indeed the stuff of speculative fantasy. In the case of the very fictional Smyle broadband company, it is really just Gus Roberts, who is such a crackerjack installation and repair specialist. Yet, his true calling is the investigation of the paranormal. He (and his paltry online followers) never really witnessed much until he was partnered up with rookie “Elton John.” Suddenly, the two technicians are constantly confronting ghosts during their wifi repairs in writer-creators Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Nat Saunders & James Serafinowicz’s 8-episode Truth Seekers, which premieres this Friday on Amazon Prime.

Fixing cable and boosting signals comes so effortlessly to Roberts, it leaves him plenty of time for his internet show,
Truth Seekers, but so far, hardly anyone has found time to watch. His appreciative boss Dave hopes some of his magic will rub off on an unpromising recruit, Elton John (that’s a recurring joke, as you might have guessed). Lo and behold, as soon as they make a service call at the quaint cottage of Connolly’s Nook, they start hearing ghostly noises and even discover a secret room.

Once is enough for “John,” but Roberts convinces him to come back the next day. Their assignment will be the Portland Beacon, a cheesy “haunted” hotel that is completely phony—except when they arrive, the supernatural activity goes off the scale. This all still freaks out John, but he still forges a friendship and comradery with Roberts. He will also take a personal interest in their next case. That would be their stowaway, Astrid, a young woman chased by legitimately scary looking specters.

Frankly, the writing of the supernatural stuff is probably sharper than the comic material in
Truth Seekers. A lot of it is surprisingly inventive, especially the way elements of the second episode, which largely feels like a one-off, become important again as the grand conspiracy comes to light in later installments. The comedy is hit-or-miss, but it is mostly rather muted, except for some awkward old guy slapstick from Roberts’ old man, played to the crotchety hilt by Malcolm McDowell (a.k.a. Mick Travis, H.G. Wells, or Caligula). A little of John’s agoraphobic fangirl sister fangirl sister Helen also goes along way.

Fortunately, the buddy chemistry between Roberts and John is always genial and unforced. Nick Frost and Samson Kayo play off each other nicely, in an upbeat manner, expressing malice for none. That is true for the show in general. In fact, the character of Roberts and Frost’s portrayal of him are quite refreshing, because they never mock him as an anti-social “lone gunman” nut-case. Instead, he is a highly productive member of society, who is keenly aware of his status in the online ecosystem, but keeps plugging away with
Truth Seekers, out of a passion for the truth. He is also tragically widowed—a fact that will have later significance.

Emma D’Arcy is believably freaked out as Astrid, but she falls into the lads’ bantering rhythm quite nicely, when she starts “riding along.” Fans might be annoyed by Pegg’s relatively brief screen time in the early episodes, but his character will play a greater role down the stretch. Regardless, he is always drolly amusing as Dave, the broadband boss. Julian Barratt’s gleeful scenery chewing as the evil pseudo-academic Dr. Peter Toynbee is another key ingredient to the show’s success.

Amazon shows are getting a reputation for violence from the likes of
The Boys, Utopia, and Hunters, but Truth Seekers is quite genteel in comparison. There are a few on-screen deaths, but most come in the opening episode prologues, which often flashback to events decades (or even centuries) prior. Ironically, Frost, Pegg, et al are embracing the horror genre, but their execution (and that of Jim Field Smith, who helms all episodes) is quite amiable and endearingly earnest. A full comparison to the original Ghostbusters is not quite warranted, because Truth Seekers is not that funny (few things are), but the creators show similar instincts for balancing their material. Highly recommended for fans of horror-comedy, Truth Seekers starts streaming this Friday (10/30) on Amazon Prime.