M. Night Shyamalan and Servant cast tease the Apple TV+ show's 'emotional high concept'
The upcoming Apple TV+ show Servant is not director M. Night Shyamalan’s first foray into TV; that would be 2015’s Wayward Pines. But a network drama Servant is not. Speaking to EW about the series ahead of a New York Comic Con panel on Thursday, Shyamalan said we might need to come up with a different word for the kind of show it is.
“I don’t even know if I would call this TV,” Shyamalan tells EW. “We’re going to have to come up with like a new term for this…’long-form content?’ That’s not sexy at all. But I really enjoyed this format much, much more than I anticipated. I found it super rewarding because when I make my movies, it’s very isolated. I mean I have my crew and the cast, but it’s very much me. It’s just, you know, I’m working with one group of people and we’re doing one thing, whereas with a show there’s multiple directors and I’m working with another writer and we’re rotating different departments as we’re going.”
Servant is filmed entirely in one location, which Shyamalan says gives it an almost play-like atmosphere. It all takes place at the Philadelphia home of a couple (Toby Kebbell and Lauren Ambrose) who are dealing with a tragedy in a very unusual way. The promotional campaign for Servant has been very secretive so far; all most people have seen are the two brief teasers released by Apple last month, one of which shows a creepy-looking CGI baby rocking in a cradle, while the other shows a cricket crawling out of a shower drain. But the New York Comic Con panel premiered the show’s trailer, which gave a few more details.
The trailer, which has not yet been released publicly — shows that the aforementioned couple, Sean and Dorothy Turner, recently lost their baby at 13 weeks. They are coping with it through a form of fringe therapy that involves keeping a doll in their house and treating it like an actual baby, who they call Jericho. But Dorothy wants to go even farther, and hires a young nanny named Leanne (Game of Thrones’ Nell Tiger Free) to take care of the doll-baby.
“Something I look for in anything that I would work on is two kinds of high concepts,” Shyamalan says. “One is kind of like a physical high concept, which would make you and I go, ‘Oh wow, that’s a really cool premise.’ But tied underneath that is a real emotional high concept that that is actually the engine of the piece that actually moves the characters along. And this story had that kind of deep path. For me, the supernatural stuff is all just an excuse to talk about things that worry us or confuse us or that we wish about. This was just a wonderfully metaphoric story.”
Although the trailer showed minor characters like police officers visiting the apartment, Servant is laser focused on four characters in particular. Aside from the three mentioned above, there’s also Julian Pierce (Rupert Grint), Sean’s loud-mouthed brother-in-law. Shyamalan tells viewers to expect big things from the Harry Potter actor’s performance.
“He came in and he auditioned and this second life of his as an adult actor is incredible. He is absolutely incredible, steals every scene he’s in,” Shyamalan says. “It was almost like this role was like custom written for him. It was just one of many things about the show that felt very much like the universe going all right, we’re gonna give you another little thing here.”
Despite this sneak peek, many mysteries still surround Servant. When the cast came into EW’s New York Comic Con video studio on Friday, creator Tony Basgallop noted that each character has a different interpretation of what’s really going on, and almost every episode has one particular character in the foreground, bringing with them a slightly different style and perspective.
“Everyone sees life in such a different way anyway, and there’s such an unusual premise at the heart of the show that just one explanation never really works,” Basgallop told EW’s Kristen Baldwin. “You’ve got to explore every single avenue. These people are trying to figure out what the truth is, which as a drama, it keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
The cast also talked about working with crickets on set (how do you get a cricket to hit its mark? “Not easily,” according to Free). A cricket was a centerpiece of one of the brief teasers released so far, in which Leanne says “my aunt used to say that when a cricket came into your home, something bad was coming.” Is Leanne a metaphorical cricket? Or is a real cricket the problem in and of itself?
Viewers can find out next month. The panel revealed that Servant will launch on Nov. 28 — a.k.a Thanksgiving Day. Watch EW’s video with the cast above.