Fresh off the release early this year of Glass, the final film in his Unbreakable trilogy, director M. Night Shyamalan is back with an intriguing new series for Apple TV+. Servant might be best described as a psychological thriller with supernatural overtones, about young parents who hire a nanny to help care for their newborn infant. But the nanny—and the baby—aren’t quite what they seem to be.
It’s frankly a surprising move for Shyamalan, who typically avoids working in television. Sure, he directed the pilot episode of limited series Wayward Pines in 2015, but he has said he doesn’t like the tight shooting schedule required for TV. “The great thing about the format is it’s character-driven,” he told the audience at New York Comic-Con last month when the first teaser debuted. “But the amount of content you have to deliver for the amount of time and resources, the math just doesn’t work—which is why we can count on two hands every show that has gone from beginning to end with the same quality.”
Series creator Tony Basgallop convinced him otherwise. It helped that Servant‘s 10 episodes are a bingeable 30 minutes each and everything takes place in a single location (the grieving couple’s home), giving the series a “play-like quality,” according to Shyamalan. Like much of his work, the series is set in Philadelphia and was shot there, with Shyamalan doing the editing in his own home.
Per the official synopsis, “Servant follows a Philadelphia couple in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy creates a rift in their marriage and opens the door for a mysterious force to enter their home.” Toby Kebbell and Lauren Ambrose play Sean and Dorothy Turner, who are struggling to cope with the loss of their baby, Jericho. Sean agrees to try “fringe therapy”: using a doll as a replacement for their dead baby as they work through their grief. But it seems Dorothy starts to believe the doll actually is her baby. And when she decides to hire a complete stranger named Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free) as a nanny, things really start to get weird, in fine Shyamalan fashion.
The trailer opens with Leanne’s arrival at chez Turner to care for what we might initially assume is a normal baby. Dorothy considers Leanne a godsend; Sean finds her a bit weird. “She’s cool with everything? She knows the situation?” Sean’s buddy Julian (Rupert Grint) asks. And we see Sean looming over the crib before picking up “baby” Jericho by the legs and dangling the doll in the air. Cut to Sean telling Leanne that it’s OK to put the doll down when Dorothy isn’t home. But Leanne seems to have bought into Dorothy’s delusion, too, which Sean understandably finds disturbing. The final voiceover ominously asks, “Do you know who you welcomed into your home?”
We don’t get much in the way of a mysterious supernatural force in the trailer, but the cinematography looks spectacular. And there are hints that something was not quite right about the Turner baby’s death. Shyamalan said at NYCC that he has mapped out 60 episodes, or six seasons over six years, for Servant. I’m not convinced this is a strong enough premise to work beyond one or two seasons, but the director is known for his unusual concepts and ingenious twists. If anyone could flesh it out for six seasons, it’s Shyamalan.
Servant premieres on Apple TV+ on November 28, 2019.
Listing image by YouTube/Apple TV+