Review by Sean Boelman
Several actors previously primarily known for their comedic work made their mark behind the camera directing dramas, and one of the most successful cases of that is Ben Stiller. Stiller directs a majority of the episodes of the new thriller Severance, a darkly comedic satire that will be one of the year’s smartest, most biting new shows.
The series is set at a company where employees undergo a surgical procedure that divides their memories and personality between their work and personal lives, as a group of office workers try to find the truth behind their jobs. It’s a creative sci-fi premise in that it takes a familiar concept and exaggerates and expands upon it in a creative way.
It is pretty obvious that the series is anti-capitalist, as it wears its message on its sleeves. There are a lot of different megacorporations for which the fictional one at the center of the series could be a stand-in, but the fact that there are so many believable circumstances in which this could be applicable only goes to show how great the commentary is.
The pacing of the show is also extremely good. The first episode hooks the viewer with some extremely good world-building, and then the rest of the show has the perfect balance of suspense and payoffs to be entertaining. And the finale is one of the wildest rides in any series in recent memory.
One of the best things about the show is the way in which it builds its characters. There are effectively two protagonists, although they are just different parts of the same person. Of course, Adam Scott’s phenomenal performance deserves a great deal of credit for making these two halves come to life, but the writing is brilliant in its own right as well.
The supporting cast is also wonderful. This is hopefully a star-making role for Britt Lower, whose performance is absolutely beguiling. John Turturro is as good as always in his supporting role, as is Christopher Walken, although the latter gives a much more restrained turn than is usual for him. And Patricia Arquette’s performance is entirely intimidating.
On a technical level, the series does some interesting things despite its inherent limitations. Most of the show takes place in a white, highly-lit basement, but there are some really fascinating flashes of style in every single episode that go a very long way in making things feel slick. And of course, the sanitized nature goes a long way in making the viewer feel claustrophobic.
Severance is a truly phenomenal series that takes its brilliant ideas and develops them in a spectacular way. It’s the type of mystery that viewers will stream week after week to see it unravel.
Severance streams on Apple TV+ beginning February 18. New episodes stream subsequent Fridays. All nine episodes reviewed.