Servant, the new series written by Tony Basgallop (To the Ends of the Earth) and executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), started strong last week when the first three episodes dropped on AppleTV+.
The series stars Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) and Toby Kebbell (Warcraft) as Dorothy and Sean Turner, a couple suffering after the loss of their infant child, Jericho. Dorothy was inconsolable to the point of catatonia after Jericho’s death but thanks to a controversial therapy using a lifelike doll as a substitute she has begun taking steps into her old life.
Making the decision to go back to work, she hires Leanne Grayson (Game of Thrones’ Nell Tiger Free) who takes the job, never questioning that her charge is not a living child.
The series is a gloriously atmospheric character study, carefully paced with unexpected surprises around every turn thanks to Basgallop’s writing and the cast’s commitment to their roles.
Ambrose moves from one moment to the next across a perilous psychological landscape with the alacrity of a trained dancer, giving each moment just enough weight before moving to the next inevitable hill or valley. Her performance is especially effective in those valleys, however, as we realize with a palpable sense of dread that even at her lowest, she is still standing on the edge of a cliff.
Kebbell’s Sean, meanwhile, is caught in the equally perilous balancing act between caring for his wife while trying to heal himself. His patience is thin and he lashes out before breaking down while trying to process all of the feelings he has going on inside himself.
And then there’s Leanne. Free plays her with a cold disconnect that leaves the audience uncertain of her actions as well as the motivations behind them. There is something terrifying about Free in this role that could very well place her on nomination lists when award season rolls around.
The central cast is rounded out by Rupert Grint who famously played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise and continues to prove that he is much more than the role that made him famous with his no-nonsense portrayal of Dorothy’s brother.
It’s a dynamite mixture that keeps Servant on its slow-burn course from one episode to the next.
For his part, Shyamalan, who shares directing duties on Servant with Daniel Sackheim and Lisa Bruhlmann, brings some of his signature style and settings to the series. The man has an uncanny ability to inject dread into otherwise innocuous objects and that talent is on full display throughout the first three episodes.
Be warned, the pacing here is slow, and there are a lot of moving parts to the plot. There is nothing simple about this series at all, but despite its pace, Basgallop manages to include just enough unexpected twists and turns in each half-hour episode to keep the audience guessing.
Will that keep them watching?
That remains to be seen, and will almost completely hinge on whether they can maintain the precarious balancing act they’ve created for themselves and for their characters.
The first three episodes of Servant are currently available on AppleTV+ with new episodes debuting each week.