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SYFY WIRE New York Comic Con 2019

NYCC 2019: M. Night Shyamalan's Apple show Servant is a bonkers thriller about a baby doll

By Josh Weiss
M. Night Shyamalan

Things got spooky at New York Comic Con this evening when producer M. Night Shyamalan debuted the first trailer and a debut date for Servant on Apple TV+. The public won't get to see the teaser for another 3-4 weeks, unfortunately, but we can tell you that we'll be sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Created by Tony Basgallop (writer of Inside Men and Berlin Station), the series centers on a Philadelphia couple, Sean and Dorothy Turner, who grapple with a strange nanny they've hired to look over their infant, Jericho. So far so good, right? Not too scary, yeah?

But since this is M. Night we're talking about, here's the twist: the baby died a while back and Dorothy has been taking care of a doll this entire time. So bad is her grief, that she's hired a nanny to look after the inanimate toy. This finally explains the wide-eyed, uncanny valley toddler you see in the two initial promotional videos for the show. And things only get weirder from there, folks. 

Toby Kebbell (Black Mirror) and Lauren Ambrose (The X-Files) play the Turners, while Nell Tiger Free (Game of Thrones) takes up the post of the creepy nanny, Leanne Grayson. Free was characterized as "a big question mark in the house." Rupert Grint (Harry Potter) plays Julian Pearce, although it's unclear if he's a family friend or something else entirely. In any case, the Turners are gonna need one because Jericho's passing has created a rift in their marriage — a crack that allows something sinister and mytsterious to enter their home.

"I think it all dates back to having kids. I think anyone who's had kids understands the fear — the notion that anything can go wrong at any time," said Basgallop. "I'm a clumsy guy so when I had kids, it was really treacherous for my family."

Servant NYCC

“That premise is so tragic and weird and scary. It’s also inappropriately funny … I’m really interested in the you’re scared and laughing kind of thing," said Shyamalan, citing his previous explorations of comedy-horror with The Visit and Split.  If the filmmaker has his way, the show will span 60 episodes across six years. "You gobble up [these episodes] because they're just razor edge right to the end of each moment. 

Touching on the enigma that is Leanne, he believes we'll be seeing a lot of Comic Con cosplays based on her character and mythology in the coming years.

Described as "a half-hour thriller" and a "sit-thriller" (Shyamalan's personal portmanteau of "sitcom" and "thriller"), Servant's episodes — all of them written by Basgallop — will unfold in one single location, the Turner domicile.

"It has almost this play-like quality to it," Shyamalan added, explaining how one set allows you to put more emphasis on stuff like acting and cinematography. Moreover, he felt it reflected the no-frills and minimalistic design of Apple's products, which drew the producer and his crew to partnering with them in the first place.

"It forces you to do something different for the writing," added Basgallop about the decision to never leave the house. "You realize you get a little bit tired [as a writer] sometimes. When you give yourself that restriction, it changes everything ... And it really helps because you just can't tell the story the way your instinct tells you to."

And while it was never in the front of his mind while writing the series, Basgallop did come to realize that the finished product had some strong echoes of Rosemary's Baby (1968), a cornerstone of the newborn sub-genre in the world of horror.

"I don't think Rosemary's Baby was ever really an influence for me," he finished. "It wasn't until we got into production when it was like, 'Quite obviously, that's the type of thing we should be using.' I try not to think of other movies or other genres when I'm writing ... Rosemary's Baby is an incredible movie, but generally, my mind was never really there."

Servant will premiere on Apple TV+ Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. The streaming service goes live Friday, Nov. 1.

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of New York Comic Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.