By Ani Bundel
New York Comic Con 2019 was as high-octane as ever when it came to comics. But on the TV side of things, it was like a hush had overtaken the proceedings. By this time next year, the landscape for TV will be massively different. It was hard to ignore, especially when NYCC was paneling shows like M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant, a show that will debut next month on a streaming service that doesn’t even exist yet.
Apple TV+ is the new streaming service from the people who brought you the iPhone and the iPad launches on Nov. 1, 2019. It will have four original series when it does: The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind, and Dickenson. Servant will be part of the second wave, coming at the end of November, just in time for the holiday season.
At the New York Comic Con press roundtable, writer Tony Basgallop described the upcoming thriller as “an exploration of marriage and marriage in crisis in a way, because an unspeakable thing that’s happened in their lives that they need to repair and move forward.”
That “unspeakable thing” is the loss of their child. Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) and Toby Kebbell (Black Mirror) play Dorothy and Sean Turner, who lose their baby at 13-weeks-old. Dorothy is inconsolable, and in a desperate attempt to help her come to terms with the loss, the two of them start playacting the baby’s routine with a doll. But rather than help, all this does is drag Dorothy in deeper. Enabled by her brother Julian Pearce (Rupert Grint), she sets out to hire a nanny for the baby doll, Leanne, played by Nell Tiger Free.
In Ambrose’s description, Servant is both hilarious in terribly uncomfortable ways, while also being a bit of a horror-thriller, especially as unexplainable things start happening. “It’s a sit-thrill! A situational thriller. Instead of laughing, you are thrilled,” she said.
Part of the thriller aspect comes from the smallness of the series. According to Basgallop, everything was filmed in “one location, a Philadelphia brownstone.” He explained, “[I]n the beginning we were talking about how are we going to stay in this home with that limitation and how are we just going to have us four and a couple of people coming in but it works so well.”
Keeping the location to one place means that the audience can’t look away from the weirdness happening behind closed doors. It also means that the entire focus is on what is actually happening to this family.
“It’s exploring what’s reality and what is perception,” said Ambrose. “It’s not a supernatural show, but it has a supernatural pulse because things can be explained in the real world of matter, or things can be explained in a more spiritual sense. So everybody’s perspective can be different. What is reality? Which version will we see? Which lens will we see the world through?”
Servant’s first season is made up of 10 half-hour installments. Basgallop says the hope is to go six seasons or 30 hours all told. The show will premiere on Apple TV+ on Nov. 28, 2019.