As the elevator doors open, out steps a man possessed by purpose and the kind of strut and attitude toward his working day that would please any employer contending with the great resignation. The cha-cha of Theodore Shapiros's 'Labor of Love' rings through the corridor maze through which he glides. His wry smile is only momentarily interrupted by confusion as he reaches into his pocket to find a damp used tissue before effortlessly dispatching it into a passing waste-paper basket with three-point precision. Unbeknown to him, that damp, silly excuse of a tissue is his; the only evidence of his painful pre-work ritual fuelled by the grief and torment of loss.
Mark (Adam Scott) has undergone the procedure colloquially known as Severance, giving consent for his perceptual chronologies to be surgically split, separating his memories between his "innie" work life and his "outie" personal life, with access to those memories spatially dictated by his employer Lumon Industries. This fictional conglomerate combines the very worst of big pharma and big tech as it sets out to redefine what constitutes a healthy work-life balance.
Primarily set on the severed floor of Lumon Industries grand complex, Dan Erickson's playful and morbidly funny stress-inducing nightmare scenario is a perfect blend of Charlie Kaufman's absurdist humour and sci-fi sensibilities. One that sees the company's macro data refinement department go to work sorting "bad" numbers on computer terminals with little room for pontification or questioning as to what exactly they're contributing towards.
Divided by office privacy screens, the team comprises of your typical workplace-sitcom ensemble: Irving (John Turturro), the office veteran; Dylan (Zach Cherry), the cautious and sharp-tongued cynic; and Mark, the newly promoted department chief struggling with his new day-to-day responsibilities inherited following the sudden disappearance of his former leader Petey (Yul Vazquez). That sudden disappearance leaves a vacancy for new recruit Helly (Britt Lower), whose unhappiness turns to an infectious intrigue that eventually takes hold of her co-workers.
Keeping the questions to an absolute minimum is the terrifying Milchick (Tramell Tillman). A creepy minder who bestows minor perks such as five-minute dance sessions and waffle parties for achieving quota, yet equally chips away at his workers' psyche with constant mental gymnastics, supervised by the equally sinister Lumon boss Ms Cobel (Patricia Arquette). Will it be a trip to "the break room" (emphasis on break) or a session with the wellness counsellor? You're never quite sure. Ask no questions then, or else.
While the more engaging moments happen within the many walls of Lumon Industries, it's after Mark's innie clocks out for the day that the show moves beyond twisted workplace sitcom and into something far more thrilling. Mark's work-life boundaries and multiple realities slowly blur into one thanks to some weighty exposition. The change in tone - reflective of the character's dour mental state - will ask viewers to reserve some patience before it's allowed to get completely swept up in the show's investigative mystery elements and expertly crafted reveals throughout its nine-episode run.
Rewarding and rip-roaring, Severance combines assured direction from Ben Stiller, show-stealing performances from Adam Scott, and an ensemble cast at the very top of their game. Delivering a truly exceptional debut season that culminates in one of the best edge-of-your-seat finales to have graced television in many years, Dan Erickson's work-place mystery is one you won't want to forget in a hurry.
'Severance'makes its global streaming premiere on Apple TV+ with its first two episodes on Friday, February 18th.
Sigmund is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ScreenTimes where he began his Apple TV coverage in 2016. With an unwavering passion for Apple, storytelling and storytellers alike, he writes about Apple TV with a focus on the arts, development, tvOS, home theatre and accessibility. Sigmund also co-host’s Magic Rays of Light, a weekly podcast exploring the world of Apple TV and the many talents bringing our screens to life.