A lonely broadband installer with a side gig as a ghost hunter and his new partner encounter more supernatural intrigue than they bargained for in Truth Seekers, a new comedy series on Amazon Prime, created by Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz, and Nat Saunders. We’re fans of Paul, Shaun of the Dead, and the rest of the Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, so it’s nice to see Frost and Pegg back together on-screen again. Truth Seekers brings their unique comic sensibility to the topic of paranormal investigation.
Per the official synopsis:
Truth Seekers is a supernatural comedy series about a team of part-time paranormal investigators who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK, sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see. However, as they stake out haunted churches, underground bunkers and abandoned hospitals with their array of homemade ghost-detecting gizmos, their supernatural experiences grow more frequent, more terrifying and even deadly, as they begin to uncover a conspiracy that could bring about Armageddon for the entire human race.
Frost plays Gus—a lonely widowed guy with a boring job installing broadband for a company called SMYLE—who moonlights as an amateur paranormal investigator. The titular Truth Seekers is the name of his YouTube channel. Pegg has a somewhat smaller role (in terms of screen time) as Gus’ cheerfully exuberant boss, Dave, who sports a positively disastrous wig and seems to be very keen on always maintaining “100 percent coverage.” Is he really that gung-ho about customer service, or is there some ulterior motive at SMYLE?
Gus’ comfortable routine changes abruptly with the addition of a new partner to train: Elton (Samson Kayo, Dolittle), who is a bit dubious about the whole ghost-hunting side gig. But supernatural activity seems to be on the rise, which is how they meet Astrid (Emma D’Arcy, Hannah). She stops their car on the road one night claiming she’s being pursued by ghosts. The rest of the cast includes Gus’ cantankerous father-in-law Richard (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange, Bombshell); Elton’s agoraphobic sister Helen (Susie Wokoma, Year of the Rabbit, Enola Holmes), who hosts a YouTube channel featuring tutorials on cosplay makeup; and Dr. Peter Toynbee (Julian Barratt, In Fabric), a paranormal motivational speaker whose objectives also might be more sinister than they appear.
As we reported previously, Truth Seekers was envisioned from the start as a cross between The X-Files and the British TV series Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World—with added comedy. Saunders mentioned he wanted to make a “funny X-Files,” and Frost and Serafinowicz were keen on the idea. As for choosing Gus’ profession, “We were trying to think of a mundane job that would counterbalance them being ghost hunters in their spare time but also would get them into lots of different places and houses,” said Serafinowicz. A broadband installation expert seemed ideal.
After Pegg came on board, the team realized the Wi-Fi/tech angle provided an underlying theme for the show about loneliness and the impact of technology on our lives. “These people, and the ghosts they’re looking for, are all in some way lonely and trying to connect,” Saunders told Ars, and technology is a time-honored conduit for making those connections. As examples, he cited 19th-century spirit photography, the infamous Cottingley Fairies hoax, and more recently Ring and similar Japanese horror films. (If you haven’t seen Ring or its 2002 US remake, we won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll never completely trust your TV again.)
“It’s meddling with the idea that ghosts might start to utilize technology to bridge our world and theirs,” said Saunders. “We had this idea of ‘What if a World War II radar station could actually be blocking a modern-day Wi-Fi signal? And what if that Wi-Fi signal was doing more than just providing people with great download speeds? What if it was tied into something bigger and stranger?'”
Each of the eight episodes focuses on a specific paranormal incident, a throwback to a classic monster-of-the-week format, although the eagle-eyed viewer will spot a few key clues to a broader narrative arc that culminates in the final two episodes. “It’s like having our cake and eating, because we love the story-of-the-week format and having a different type of haunting or spooky location,” said Saunders. “But in this day of bingeable TV, we want to give people a reason to watch everything in order, maybe all in a couple of sittings, and to piece together the mystery that builds over the course of the show.”
“It’s their day job to be in a different place each episode, [and] they just happen to stumble upon different ghosts,” said Serafinowicz. But while it all feels coincidental at the start, “There’s a reason all these things are happening to them; it becomes clear that all these things are somehow related.”
Rather than going with pure spoof, Truth Seekers takes its horror seriously—quite deliberately, according to comments Pegg made during a panel this past summer at the virtual ComicCon@Home. “It’s a balancing act. There’s some things that can’t work in comedy,” said Serafinowicz, and the same for the horror genre. “We picked two of the hardest genres where people are quick to judge: ‘Go on then, make me laugh.’ Or ‘Oh, you thought that was scary?’ But we never wanted to just parody the horror.” They also refrained from excessive violence or gore, focusing on “the creep and the dread, and a few jump scares,” said Saunders, which makes Truth Seekers downright family friendly (for older kids, at least).
“We didn’t want to have gag after gag when it came to the comedy,” Saunders added. “We wanted the humor to come from the characters and the way they respond to the situations they find themselves in. It helps you to get to know the characters and love them rather than feel like they’re a constant joke machine.”
On that score, Truth Seekers most definitely succeeds, gradually fleshing out the characters and revealing their backstories. The cast is terrific, gamely shooting scenes in creepy old buildings, dark tunnels, and even an abandoned animal testing facility—although one might wish for more on-screen time between Frost and Pegg, who exhibit their usual strong chemistry.
McDowell is particularly delightful as the curmudgeonly Richard, taking full advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate his comic gifts. Both Saunders and Serafinowicz admitted to being a bit star-struck at first when McDowell arrived on set. “He’s so brilliant, such a legend, and someone I’ve admired all my life,” said Serafinowicz. “My mum couldn’t believe that I actually met him.”
Truth Seekers is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.