Ben Stiller continues to carve a nice niche for himself as a TV director with Apple TV+’s Severance, his so-far excellent follow-up to the extremely well-done Escape at Dannemora.
The severely underrated Adam Scott stars as Mark, a man who has chosen to go through a procedure called “severance” at his job. It’s not about getting fired; in this dystopian future, you can opt to have a brain procedure that completely separates your work-time memories from your real-life recollections. Memory-wise, you essentially become two people—one person who is at work, and another person who is living life otherwise.
You could be a homicidal maniac outside of work—and your work self wouldn’t know it. When you come back from the weekend, you feel as if you were only at your work desk, because your memories drop out during the elevator ride to the office. (Come to think of it, I kind of feel like that on Mondays without the “severance” procedure.)
It’s a brilliant idea, presented well by Stiller (who directs six of the nine episodes) and crew. As of this writing, two of the episodes have aired, and the sinister possibilities have only been hinted at thus far. There’s a darkly comic, satirical tone that reminds a bit of Brazil, with maybe just a touch of the opening minutes from Joe vs. the Volcano.
John Turturro is great in a supporting role as a tight-assed co-worker. Christopher Walken makes an early appearance—and looks to be a significant part of future episodes. Britt Lower does strong work as Helly, a new employee under Mark’s tutelage.
TV series are where it’s at now, and Stiller knows it; he wouldn’t be able to breathe like this in a two-hour feature project. The series (for which he also serves as executive producer) gives him nine episodes, nearly an hour long each, to get his vision across, and he excels in the format. I can’t wait to see where this one goes in the coming weeks.
Severance is streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes being released on Fridays.