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TV Series Review

"Everything you can imagine is real,” Pablo Picasso once said.

But is that really true? Or do we simply like to imagine it is?

These are relevant questions as we open up the curious story of Apple TV+’s much-anticipated series Servant. And asking these questions also allows us to give a bit of space to the spoiler warning we must give before we go any farther. Created by Tony Basgallop and directed by twisty horrormeister M. Night Shyamalan, Servant offers an inescapable twist in the very first episode.

You have been warned.

I See Doll People

Sean and Dorothy Turner are affluent, successful, seemingly happy Philadelphians. She’s a television reporter. He’s a “professional bon vivant” who whips up decadent, glamorous meals from home. They’re living an upscale version of the American dream filled with good food, expensive wine and a little baby named Jericho.

But Sean knows it’s more than a dream: it’s a delusion. See, Jericho’s dead. He just stopped breathing one night, he tells their new live-in nanny, Leanne. Dorothy couldn’t take it: She suffered a psychotic breakdown, and a counselor suggested that a realistic “reborn” doll might help ease Dorothy’s suffering and defer her grief a bit.

But Dorothy put her grief on long-term layaway, it seems. More than three months later, she’s still treating the thing like a real, breathing infant. She’s so captured by the delusion, and Sean’s so determined to keep up the act, that they hire Leanne to take care of a doll. That’s creepy enough. But the fact that Leanne slips into the façade so easily and earnestly, even hanging makeshift wooden crosses above Jericho’s crib as some sort of ward, bothers Sean even more.

But what really throws Sean over the edge is this: At some point, Jericho, the baby-turned-doll, became … a baby.

Sean is a sensible, secular man. He knows that dolls don’t just turn into babies, à la some modern version of Pinocchio. The kid had to come from somewhere. And Sean thinks he knows who put him there.

But is he right? There seems to be something more at work here than just a baby-pilfering, live-in nanny: something potentially miraculous … or diabolical.

Mr. Crass

Servant is a chilling tale, to be sure—both seemingly psychological and supernatural, a mystery story by turns horrific and darkly funny. (It’s also got more cooking than many an actual cooking show to boot.)

And it has plenty on its mind. Through its prism, Basgallop’s story pokes at the Turners’ veneer of 21st-century upscale secular hedonism (and, in so doing, explores our own comfort-loving society). And it speculates about the deeper, perhaps darker, primal powers that lie underneath.

The mysterious nanny Leanne is a bit doll-like herself at times, which allows her a certain unsettling ambiguity. Is this 18-year-old woman the Wisconsin ingénue she seems to be? Is she a two-faced temptress with designs on Sean? On Dorothy? On everyone? Is she an angel? A witch? A baby snatcher? A body snatcher? Those themes and elements are cooked in a cauldron filled with Freudian id and unease. And the show’s weekly dish can make you nauseous.

You can take that statement quite literally, by the way. Sean’s gluttonous dishes sometimes involve prepping edible critters while they’re still alive. One such scene, filmed in excruciating detail, causes Leanne to faint and just might make sensitive viewers do the same.

But Servant is troubling in other ways, too: Characters have erotic and unseemly encounters. Sex and sexuality—including feints toward same-sex attraction and forbidden relationships—become important themes. Language can be quite harsh as well and, naturally, uncensored. And characters drink a lot. Dorothy’s brother, Julian, rarely visits her and Sean without guzzling a bottle of wine or swilling some good whiskey.

The latter is done with a purpose, of course: It’s the story’s way of highlighting the characters’, and perhaps society’s, dissolute tendencies. And I think that the story, as it goes on, may have some interesting (though not necessarily encouraging) things to say about faith.

But the show’s aspirations, whatever they may be, don’t diminish its defects. They say revenge is dish best served cold; Servant may be a dish best not served at all.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Nov. 28, 2019, Episode 1: "Reborn"
November 28, 2019, Episode 2: "Doubt What You Believe"

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Lauren Ambrose as Dorothy Turner; Toby Kebbell as Sean Turner; Nell Tiger Free as Leanne Grayson; Rupert Grint as Julian Pearce

Director

Distributor

Network

AppleTV+

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Released

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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