Truth Seekers review: Amazon series is heavy on horror but terrifyingly light on laughs
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's new Amazon series is stuffed with scares, but lacks the wit of the Cornetto Trilogy.
Fondly remember Simon Pegg and Nick Frost slinging vinyls at Shaun of the Dead’s undead army? Still laugh at the pair trailing a swan after your 12th Hot Fuzz re-watch? Or drunkenly stumbling through an alien-infested pub crawl in The World's End? Well then, you're going to be seriously underwhelmed by Amazon's Truth Seekers.
Look, we know what you’re thinking: but isn’t it just a TV version of the outstanding Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy? The honest answer – the one we wish really we didn't have to give: absolutely not.
While the eight-part Amazon Prime Video series may appear on the surface to be another adrenaline-packed visual comedy scare-fest from Frost and Pegg, Truth Seekers places much more emphasis on horror than any comedy.
This isn’t too surprising considering the show’s premise: while Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz followed relatively ordinary people accidentally stumbling on to the paranormal, Truth Seekers centres on a man hell-bent on seeking the supernatural.
The man in question: Gus Roberts (Frost), a Sky Smyle broadband engineer who moonlights as an amateur ghost hunter, uploading his paranormal escapades on YouTube. With Pegg’s character (Smyle boss Dave) playing only a small role in early episodes, Gus instead pairs up with apprentice Elton (Samson Kayo) to hunt hauntings in eerie abandoned hospitals, old mansions and underground bunkers.
And hauntings they find. From flayed zombies, to a genuinely terrifying plague doctor and punctured eyeballs, Truth Seekers is undoubtedly Pegg and Frost’s scariest project to date.
But it’s certainly not their funniest. By far. In fact, virtually all the notably laughs in the show’s first four episodes – that’s roughly two hours of screen-time – can be seen in the two-minute series trailer.
Outside of the horror, the majority of Truth Seekers is packed with dialogue that at best will register an occasional fleeting smile and at worst boredom. Although musical cues (a tired plodding bass) will signal when a joke has been made, you’ll often be left wondering where the punchline was.
Even when Julian Barratt – arguably one of the country’s greatest deadpan comics – finally appears in the fourth episode, the script offers him no opportunity to make viewers smile, let alone laugh.
Significantly, without Frost and Pegg collaborator Edgar Wright (who helmed the Cornetto Trilogy and Channel 4 sitcom Spaced), Truth Seekers is missing its much-needed flair and energy. Gone are the whip pans, matching scene transitions and, alas, all broken fence gags. Instead, Truth Seekers director Jim Field Smith (Criminal, The Wrong Mans) opts for a slow and delicate style, one that further shrinks the impact of the already subtle dialogue.
Why such an approach? Well, speaking to RadioTimes.com on set, Simon Pegg indicated the new tone was to “distinguish ourselves from our work with Edgar”. And, very revealingly, he was keen to compare Truth Seekers to Inside No. 9 rather than Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. “You can make a comedy that doesn't make you laugh in a weird way,” he explained. “And yet you still find really funny.”
But here’s the thing: as an anthology comedy-horror series, the excellent Inside No. 9 is able to serve up a completely new and outright absurd premise each episode. And any small joke is magnified by the massively out-of-the-ordinary situation and huge personalities presented. With Truth Seekers, though, the slow-moving plot soon loses all novelty, while the characters are far from unique.
In fact, four episodes gone, we still couldn’t identify the distinguishing characteristics of anyone on screen – the two exceptions being short-fused dad Richard (Malcolm McDowell) and guarded agoraphobe Helen (played brilliantly by Susan Wokoma). Everyone else? They're a bit scared sometimes. Other times they’re not. That’s about it.
This isn’t down to the actors themselves, with many putting in solid performances (particularly Samson Kayo). But there’s nothing in the script, penned partly by Frost and Pegg, that gives anyone real flavour.
To be blunt, it's difficult to actually care about any of the characters. And that makes the show’s (many) attempts at emotional moments fall short. We simply don't know how the character is feeling in that given situation as we don’t really have any idea who they are.
This isn’t to say that Truth Seekers isn’t worth a watch: if you’re looking for a solid piece of horror this Halloween, we certainly recommend streaming the first three episodes. But we’re warning you now: the show’s untapped potential will ultimately be the scariest thing of all.
Truth Seekers is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from 30th October 2020 – you can sign up for Prime with a free 30 day free trial. Check out our guides to the best movies on Amazon Prime and the best Amazon Prime series, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.