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Servant rolls out a creepy, disturbing, and wholly involving story 

Promoted under executive producer M. Night Shymalan, who also directs three episodes, the real star behind Servant is creator and writer Tony Basgallop, who has invented a plausible but surreal world where normal people are driven to do bizarre things. A Philadelphia couple—TV newscaster Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) and celebrity chef Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell)—have tragically lost their infant son, Jericho, in a terrible accident. Dorothy is so despondent she becomes near catatonic, and in a last-ditch effort to bring her back, under the care of family friend and therapist Natalie Gorman (Jerrika Hinton), they replace Jericho with a lifelike but fake baby, and her husband; brother, Julian Pearce (Rupert Grint); and father, Frank Pearce (Todd Waring) all pretend that the fake baby is Jericho, alive and well. It's a twisted premise that gets weirder when Dorothy, now ready to return to work, hires Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free) as Jericho's nanny. (20 30-min. episodes)

Glen This is a deliciously weird and unsettling series that reminds me of the recent trend in horror epitomized by films such as Midsommar (2019), Hereditary (2018), and Mother (2017). It doesn't need something paranormal to create scares. People are weird enough as is. Dorothy is one of those plastic "journalists" who gets before the camera to cover sensationalized stories or shallow feel-good plugs. She's vapid and obviously mentally disturbed enough to believe a plastic baby is real. Sean is self-involved and cold, but somewhere in him he loves Dorothy enough to put up with her insanity. There are a lot of graphic scenes of whole animal food prep that add to the grisly and off-kilter atmosphere. Dorothy's brother, Julian, is an anxious drug and alcohol addict with a lot of underlying issues. Leanne, on the other hand, is a mystery. She's quiet and withdrawn, apparently religious but in a creepy make-crosses-out-of-bound-reeds sort of way. She's the closest thing to what might be described as occult in the series. This show is just plain creepy, and once I got sucked in, I was hooked. The last episode of Season 2 was released last week, and a third season is reportedly in the works. Fans of subtle horror, take note!

Anna I heard about this series from an interview with Grint and the whole scenario—fake baby, occult weirdness, dark and twisty happenings—had me amped up to check it out, and I was not disappointed in the least. This unsettles from the beginning with an eerily real-looking doll. (Side note: The show mentions the name of these dolls as Reborn dolls, which is a real company and a real thing and a really deep dark internet hole I personally suggest you avoid.) Plus we get two odd and seemingly secretive characters living in a big, old Philadelphia home that is dark and rich and beautiful while also starting to fall apart at the seams. When Leanne joins the family, it becomes clear she herself is an odd duck when she keeps up the illusion of a living Jericho even when Dorothy is out of the house. What opens up as the series progresses are cords of mystery and intrigue, each character damaged, some beyond repair, it seems. Where Dorothy's mania stems from slowly comes to light, and the strain between her and Sean starts unfolding as well. Throw in some cult weirdness and a frenetic and haunted Julian, and you've got a whole world of weird going on. This is a dark dive, but for fans of the slow burn, it has total payoff. I can't wait for Season 3!

Glen It will be interesting to see where Basgallop takes the story, which is confined almost entirely to the claustrophobic interiors of the house, which has a creepy sub-basement with a crumbling foundation right up to a sloped ceiling attic. When the story does leave the house, it's always briefly and in service to propelling the narrative forward. The acting is fantastic, especially Grint. His Julian doesn't handle stress well, masking his anxiety with cocaine and booze and caustic remarks. The problem with the series, and why I fear for the quality of Season 3, is it's long on atmosphere but short on story. It's basically all these characters simmering in their own emotional stew, all at the mercy of Dorothy, for whom the entire fake baby charade was conceived.

Anna It will be interesting to see how things develop and what storylines the writers decide to run with. Sean's nitty-gritty work of breaking down whole fish or poultry is visceral, revealing the ugly truth behind making something beautiful. Dorothy herself is much the same—elegant and regal from afar, but once you start to pull at the strings, we see she's flawed, desperate, and vain. Is there a good guy here or just a host of broken people? I got into this series because of Grint, and my loyalty lies with him and his deeply flawed but super sympathetic Julian. He does a great job at toeing the line between outsider and insider in this insane household. If you have a spot in your heart for feeling unsettled, this series is sure to satisfy. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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