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SYFY WIRE reviews

Critics say Shyamalan's 'Servant' pushes boundaries for Apple TV+ with creepy, twisty tale

By Josh Weiss

Here's a quick riddle for you, dear reader. What do you get when you cross a fake child, a creepy nanny, and the City of Brotherly Love? Why, you get executive producer M. Night Shyamalan's new horror series on Apple TV+, of course!

Created by Tony Basgallop, Servant doesn't premiere on the streaming service until Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 28), but reviews are currently trickling online, and they sound like a much-needed shot in the arm for Apple after the somewhat tepid reactions to the company's launch titles like See and (to a more positive extent) For All Mankind.

While some critics find it hard to envision the series going for six seasons (Shyamalan, director of the first two episodes, said at NYCC that he sees it as a six-year installment plan), they find Servant to be one of the best shows on Apple TV+ so far. Scary, bizarre, and filled with mysteries that result in the director's patented twists, it is a sure and promising sign that the subscription service is certainly willing to take major risks with its original programming.

Ok, so what's this thing even about? Well, you might want to sit down as we describe the basic premise because it's as weird as they come. Servant follows Philadelphia couple, Sean and Dorothy Turner (Toby Kebbell and Lauren Ambrose), who hire a strange nanny (Nell Tiger Free) to look after their toddler, Jericho.

So far so good, right? Time to strap in because here's where things get surreal: Jericho actually died when he was a few weeks old and in order to help her cope with the terrible loss, Dorothy got a beautifully-crafted fake baby made, which she now sees as real. The appearance of the nanny, Leanne Grayson, only takes us further down the rabbit hole.

It's time to put the faux baby down for its nap and find out what critics are saying about Servant...

"Servant is fascinating to look at and, at first, contemplate. But its slithering, reversing structure elides the fact that it must move the plot forward only infinitesimally each episode in order to conserve it, and that this is a shortish feature in the costume of a ten-episode drama. That’s its biggest, and least welcome, twist of all." -Daniel D'Addario, Variety

"Shyamalan has said he needs six seasons to tell Servant’s full story, which feels… inflated. After watching all 10 episodes, it’s hard to imagine the mystery sustaining more than two seasons or so. But it’s far too early to quibble. Right now, Servant is delivering the kind of giddy thrills you want from horror: Things are going from bad to worse for the Turner family, and I can’t help but enjoy it." -Kristen Baldwin, Entertainment Weekly

"Based on the first four episodes, the best thing that can be said about Servant is that it never drags its feet. Thanks to its half-hour runtimes, the series makes sure to hit viewers with one surprise after another. By the end of the first episode, it’s very likely fans of this kind of show are going to want to tune in for more." -Merrill Barr, Forbes

"Throughout the 10-episode first season, it often feels like some big twist is waiting at the end of this episode, or the next, or the next one after that, until you’re finished and the payoff doesn’t quite live up to the hype. That’s not to say there aren’t secrets or surprises, moments of charged excitement and heart-shaking pain, as well as strong acting and some of Shyamalan’s more accomplished constructions." -Ben Travers, IndieWire

"Servant can be a frustrating watch, with its oddball ensemble manifesting as eerily, purposefully translucent, but it’s a compulsive one. The 30-minute episodes help—every minute feels purposeful, symbolic, or some combination of the two—and there’s a hysterical quality, both in its performances and plotting, that gives its austere, shadowy aesthetic a surprising spark ... The heightened performances work not only in the context of the high-concept plot, but also the upscale townhouse in which Servant primarily unfolds." -Randall Colburn, The A.V. Club

"More than anything else, Servant disproves the popular notion that Apple's original shows will be safe, uncontroversial, family-friendly and free of sex. Servant, with its difficult premise, themes of adult anxiety, and at least scene of sexuality, is absolutely none of the above. It's the sort of show — a wild and daring idea from an established and talented creator — that Apple TV+ should be lining up to make in the upcoming streaming wars." -Stephen Silver, Apple Insider

"Shyamalan directs the first two episodes himself, setting the general look and tone of the series with lots of close-ups that creates a deeper intimacy with the characters ... Comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby and other ‘70s horror films are quite easy to make, yet to me, it’s more like the original Dark Shadows series, a slowly-building drama where every episode creates a new layer of tension to the story. There’s also an aspect of the recent Korean film Parasite in the way that the idle rich treat the 'help'." -Edward Douglas, Comics Beat

"Servant is far from perfect. It requires a ton of suspension of disbelief, does way too much mystery-wise, and may be insensitive to mothers who have lost children. But it's creepy, compulsively watchable fun, with a distinct personality. It shows that Apple is willing to make shows that are pretty dark, pretty risky, and not particularly aspirational. It's a beautiful house, but the people who live there are lunatics who hate each other. That's the kind of setup you always want from a psychological thriller, no matter who's making it." -Liam Mathews, TV Guide