There are no two words scarier in the English language than ‘horror comedy’. In a world littered with failed attempts to combine these two apparently disparate genres, it is very easy to read those words and conjure up japes of vampire valets, zombie zoo keepers, or monstrous melody makers. So when Amazon Prime’s new heavily promoted horror-comedy show Truth Seekers pops up on your watch list, should you tread into that darkened corridor?
Wary assumptions associated with the ‘horror comedy’ label change abruptly if you also mention the names ‘Nick Frost’ and ‘Simon Pegg’. The pair starred (and, in Pegg’s case, co-wrote) in the stupendously scary and hilarious hit movie, Shaun Of The Dead: arguably the best horror-comedy blend ever made. Truth Seekers is created by Frost and Pegg with James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders and gets lost in the rabbit hole of spooky conspiracy theorists in a world of YouTube broadcasting.
Frost stars as Gus Roberts: a broadband installer for Smyle internet by day, hunter of haunted houses, and monster appearances by night for his YouTube channel, ‘Truth Seekers’. Reluctantly paired with new boy Elton John (Samson Kayo) the two find that even when dealing with the most mundane of broadband-based issues, paranormal activities can float up to the surface. Issues such as soul transference, lolloping beasts, and terrifying hauntings.
At first Truth Seekers takes a ‘monster of the week’ approach where Gus and Elton turn up somewhere to investigate strange goings on. The backstories to the occurrences are engaging and, crucially, the horror is played straight. When our gang are confronted by the spirit of a long dead witch or tiptoeing around an abandoned hospital these set-ups aren’t played for gags.
This approach means that as the overarching plot develops and the show swerves into the nefarious plans of a cult leader then there is a weight behind the threat posed. That said, it certainly raised a smile on my face when one episode is set in a branch of that long-dead motorway services chain: a Happy Eater!
The comedy side of this horror-comedy coin flip is borne by good character work. Frost imbues Gus with a very ‘I Want To Believe’ enthusiasm whilst Kayo’s Elton John (a name which no-one bats an eyelid at) plays the young naïve everyman as a great foil. Even so, Truth Seekers improves as the gaggle of ghost hunters increase to include Astrid (Emma D’Arcy, a young woman plagued with visions of a burning figure), Gus’s cantankerous dad (Malcolm McDowell), and Elton’s agoraphobic sister who has a hit YouTube channel of her own (Susie Wokoma). Truth Seekers paces the introduction of these characters well so that each gets their fair share of your attention.
As for the overall plot, it is very enjoyable to see Julian Barratt (one half of The Mighty Boosh) in a mostly straight role as Dr. Peter Toynbee. Toynbee’s character angle is immediately recognisable as any cult leader shrouded in an air of intellectual respectability. Barratt, who normally plays loser characters hiding an inflated ego, really dials back his performance and lends Toynbee a combined charm and menace that works really well in retaining an underlying threat throughout.
Whilst the characters are well-rounded the comedy is rarely laugh out loud funny. At first, a lot pivots around Frost’s flippant delivery style but the script lacks enough gags to sell it. However, it only takes a few episodes to get invested in the lives of the cast before the on screen chemistry hits the right formula.
Richard (McDowell) buoys up the screen with his antagonism towards Gus and must have had A Clockwork Orange flashback in one particularly eyeball assaulting scene. Wokoma also shines as Elton’s sister, Helen, whose anti-social tendencies are softened by a burgeoningly sweet friendship with Richard based on mutual feelings of loneliness. As the series melts into a murderous cult ascension plot you will be so engaged with the cast that the lack of knee slapping laughs will hardly be a negative.
Seeing ‘Pegg’ and ‘Frost’ on the billing is misleading because Truth Seekers is no Shaun of the Dead. Pegg (Mission Impossible) and his gloriously daft wig are but a cameo only (although welcome when on screen). Instead, think more Fringe meets a quintessentially British Most Haunted. A few threads are left open at the end (there’s barely time for the wonderful Kelly Macdonald (Puzzle) to make herself known) which, given a second series, could take Truth Seekers into convoluted territory. But for the 8 episodes we have, the truth is definitely out there for those willing to livestream it.
Words by Mike Record