The new paranormal comedy from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is haunted by the ghosts of the great show it never quite becomes. Truth Seekers (Amazon Prime) marks the reunion of the Shaun of the Dead/Spaced duo and at times leans heavily on their nerdish chemistry. Yet its stab at merging vintage horror (Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World was apparently an inspiration) with contemporary chuckles goes off half-cocked. It isn’t nearly terrifying or hilarious enough.
The big novelty, of course, is the return of Frost and Pegg. In a reversal of the pair’s recent dynamic, Frost has star billing as Gus, a broadband installation technician with a side hustle hosting a supernatural investigation show on YouTube. Pegg plays his Alan Partridge-esque boss Dave. It’s a smallish part and the Star Trek/Mission Impossible actor demonstrates considerable generosity in allowing himself be outshone by a vast and ominous wig.
He can afford to be big about it. Since Spaced and Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy”, Pegg has become Hollywood’s favourite geeky Brit and a foil to Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible movies. Frost, meanwhile, has played Santa Claus on Doctor Who and was recently unveiled as the new voice of Captain Pugwash.
With their careers diverging so sharply, there have been reports of their timeless friendship going sour. But they seem to enjoy their shared screen time on Truth Seekers.
Not that they are exactly living out of one another’s pockets. Frost spends most of the eight, half-hour episodes as part of a different double act as he is partnered with Samson Kayo’s “Elton John” (possibly not his real name). Elton is a broadband installation novice who is soon joining Gus in his adventures in the supernatural.
This leads them to cross paths with Astrid (Emma D’Arcy), a mysterious young woman literally pursued by the ghosts of her past and with the Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt, playing sinister guru Dr Peter Toynbee. Malcolm McDowell also pops up, as Gus’s father (as with Toynbee there is more to him that meets the eye).
Frost and Pegg contributed to the script, which shamelessly calls back to the terrifying telly of their childhoods. As Gus and Elton investigate a succession of gloomy mysteries, Truth Seekers evokes the dank, beige creepiness of period shows such as Children of the Stones and Chocky (traces of X-Files and Scooby Doo are mixed through too).
The nostalgia isn’t without its charms. Gus’s struggle to come to terms with the passing of his wife, meanwhile, is the gateway to a surprisingly moving meditation on grief. And when it’s time for gore Truth Seekers doesn’t hold back.
If anything is lacking, it is the subversive zing that rippled through Spaced and Shaun of the Dead. With those enduring favourites, the duo weren’t simply paying homage to their favourite sci fi stereotypes.
They were slyly sending them up, too. The problem with Truth Seekers is that it’s a 21st century Amazon Prime comedy-horror that not so secretly wants to be an unnerving BBC kids caper circa 1978 and generally lacks any deeper ambitions. Frost and Pegg will never not be likeable together. It’s just a pity Truth Seekers isn’t that bit funnier and scarier.