Truth Seekers

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Nick Frost in Truth Seekers.
Nick Frost in Truth Seekers.
Screengrab: YouTube/Amazon Prime Video

OUR RATING

4/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Gus Roberts (Nick Frost) works as an internet technician, but between being called out to fix people's connections for the Smyle company, he investigates the paranormal for his barely viewed YouTube channel, "The Truth Seeker". When Gus' boss, Dave (Simon Pegg), assigns him a partner-in-training with the unlikely name of Elton John (Samson Kayo), the pair soon find themselves neck-deep in more paranormal activity than Gus could ever possibly have wanted. 

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

After going off to do their own thing for a few years, best buddies and frequent professional collaborators, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, reunited in 2016 for their biggest project yet: a new production company called Stolen Picture. Stolen Picture has, however, taken some time to properly get off the ground as its sole feature film, Slaughterhouse Rulez, was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences despite being the first proper on-screen collaboration of Pegg and Frost since The World's End. Second time is apparently the charm, though, as the company's second project and first TV series, Truth Seekers – which has actually been in development since early 2018 - comes much closer to capturing that old magic that made Spaced, Paul and the Cornetto Trilogy such cult favourites.

Mind you; there are still a few hurdles to get past before fully appreciating this terrifically enjoyable little show. Jim Field Smith does a really nice job directing all eight episodes, but it's hard to get past how it sometimes feels like he's doing an impression of frequent Pegg and Frost collaborator, Edgar Wright. It doesn't exactly feel like Hot Fuzz or Spaced, but it's close enough to sometimes have long-time Pegg/Frost/Wright fans wondering what it would look like had all three had reunited for the series rather than just the two.

Though, to be fair, for a Pegg/Frost collaboration, the two actors actually share precious little screen time throughout the entire first season. This is actually mostly Nick Frost's show with Pegg popping in a few minutes at a time as Gus' ever-enthusiastic boss, Dave. They did co-create the show with James Serafinowicz (brother of another frequent collaborator and voice of Darth Maul, Peter Serafinowicz) and Nat Saunders, and all four are listed as the writers of each episode, but it's hard not to be frustrated by the show making such limited use of one of the best on-screen comedy double acts in recent memory.

This does also mean that the show isn't as funny as the best Pegg and Frost vehicles, whose humour so often comes from the interplay between the two, but as the show does seem to be more interested in being a sci-fi/ fantasy show with comedic elements than a comedy with some sci-fi/ fantasy bits thrown in, it's more than amusing enough to live up to its billing as a lightly comic X-Files pastiche. Mind you, the X-Files itself could be uproariously funny itself at times (Bad Blood, anyone?) and Truth Seekers becomes less and less like the '90s classic as it goes on, but if, like me, you miss your fix of Mulder and Scully, Gus and Elton make for fine (if less sexually charged) replacements.

And make no mistake, Truth Seekers is heavily influenced by the X-Files. The whole idea for the show, in fact, comes from when Simon and Nick first became friends in college and bonded over their love of the X-Files by going off on their own adventures to find ghosts and other paranormal phenomena (an interesting pastime for a pair of self-identified atheists) in various locations in the UK known for their spooky credentials. Presumably, the pair didn't find anything on the level of freaky paranormal weirdness that Gus and Elton encounter at every turn but that sense of exploration and, yes, that original love of the X-Files permeates every second of the show.

Truth Seekers isn't as good as the X-Files at its very best (even in this time of "peak TV", very little television is) but it improves on its most important influence in a number of ways. In particular, it is much, much better at balancing its overarching mythology with mostly standalone, done-in-one episodes. It also helps that the show's mythology is, at this stage, a lot less convoluted, frustrating, and dull than what that aspect of the X-Files ultimately became in its later seasons – and especially in the recent X-Files revival were some perfectly good to great standalone episodes by a bunch of talented writers were hampered by whatever the hell X-Files creator, Chris Carter, was going for in his self-penned mythology episodes.

Frankly, the show is so breezy and easygoing that it's far too easy to overlook just how well crafted it is. Every episode is its own adventure, but they all build up to a pretty epic season finale that not only wraps up most of the mysteries introduced in the show but sets up some tantalising hints for where season two will hopefully go if and when the show is renewed (fingers crossed). That deceptive sense of breeziness also plays into how the show delivers most of its many major revelations and plot twists.

Truth Seekers throws tons of twists and turns throughout its eight, 30-minute-apiece episodes that often call back tiny details from previous episodes and often completely changes how you look at things in retrospect. Rather than doing the usual, though, and whacking the audience over the head with them through explosive cliffhangers or bombastic monologues, they are usually delivered off-handedly in otherwise intimate and/or funny character interactions or through unassuming visual cues.

There are some fun ghoulish set-pieces and moments of unexpected gore (between this and the boys, this is the year of exploding heads) to raise the pulse but the show really is mostly carried by its charmingly chilled vibe, self-deflating sense of humour and tons and tons and tons of heart. The beautifully crafted storytelling is matched by wonderful character work and a killer cast that are so good that you almost forgive the show its relative paucity of Pegg/Frost goodness.

Nick Frost is, as always, about as likeable, even adorable, as an adult male can possibly be and his Gus is a lovely creation full of pathos, warmth, wide-eyed optimism and humour. Samson Kayo is great as his new partner, Elton John (no relation), who is usually a whole lot less into ghostly shenanigans than Gus is – he's Scully, not as a non-believer but as a cuddly coward who also happens to be very good at getting the pair into trouble in the first place. Aiding our two heroes are Astrid (Emma D'Arcy), a haunted woman who joins the team after approaching Gus for help, Elton's seemingly brash sister, Helen (Susie Wokoma), and Gus' grumpy, caustic dad, Richard, as played by cinema legend, Malcolm McDowell. And, of course, Pegg is great even in a diminished role as Dave.

Along with all the weird ghostly goings-on, the great pleasure of the show is the way how, in just eight short episodes, the relationships between these characters grow and evolve immensely, even as we learn more and more about each of them, individually. Malcolm McDowell is especially fantastic in one of his best roles in years – funny and poignant in equal measure. And like everything else in this delightful show, he makes it look just so easy.

And that is really something that can't be stressed enough with Truth Seekers: making something this effortless take a hell of a lot of effort – and everyone involved in the production of the show have clearly thrown everything they have into it. It's silly, yes, and it's defiantly, unpretentiously, purely entertaining in a way that most of the best "serious" series out there today aren't but is clearly made with just as much care, passion and humanity as anything else you're liable to find on your multiple streaming services. I just hope enough people give it a chance to say... Bring on season 2!

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

WATCH IT NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24