by Jason Southerland
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Nov 29, 2019

There is much to love and admire about Tony Basgallop and M. Night Shyamalan's entry into the streaming world on Apple TV+. The initial promotions for "Servant" gave away little, other than the fact that there was a creepy CGI baby at the center of the story.

Creepy and unsettling are two words that aptly describe the setup for and initial execution of "Servant." Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under") and Toby Kebbell ("Black Mirror") star as Dorothy and Sean, a wealthy Philadelphia couple who recently welcomed the aforementioned baby into the world a few months before the story begins. But it's obvious from the outset that all is not right with this family, a situation made clearer and more complex by the arrival of Leanne (Nell Tiger Free from "Game of Thrones") as a nanny the couple hired through the mail.

The core cast is rounded out by Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), Dorothy's dilettante brother Julian, who raids the family wine cellar, hires a private investigator to find out about Leanne's background, and generally adds a chaotic element as the only one who is in complete panic about the danger surrounding baby Jericho. The show builds a healthy attitude of fear and panic in the first few episodes and the anticipation of finding out what's going on (and what's going on behind what's going on) propels the narrative and audience interest forward.

Unfortunately the initial reveals, while satisfying, begin to push the characters beyond an acceptable level of disbelief, which causes the narrative to fall apart by episodes 8 and 9. At some point Sean and Julian behave in absurd ways that aren't sustainable and Leanne's mysterious background becomes a mystical one that is never explained. The four principals push and pull against a weak plot and a number of narrative gimmicks that fail to deliver and often confuse the audience.

The style, tone and initial setup are the strongest parts of "Servant." Almost the entire narrative occurs inside the family brownstone, which takes on a life and character of its own. The production design is stunning, the camera work evokes some of Shyamalan's best work, and the score is evocative and unsettling as well.

The horror genre struggles to work on episodic television because it's hard to sustain the significant narrative elements over a dozen episodes without getting off track or throwing in too many plot twists (just ask Ryan Murphy!). Servant makes a valiant effort that ultimately fails to deliver a worthwhile multi-episode arc... rather than piquing the audience's curiosity for what comes next it becomes an unsatisfying wait for a resolution that never quite arrives.

"Servant" is streaming now on Apple TV+

Streaming Reviews

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