UPDATED with more details: Apple said at New York Comic Con on Thursday that M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller series Servant will premiere globally on Apple TV+ on November 28. The company’s streaming service launches globally on November 1. Apple TV+ in 100-plus countries and regions and will cost $4.99 a month domestically.
Lauren Ambrose, Toby Kebbell, Nell Tiger Free, and Rupert Grint star in Servant, which is executive produced and directed by Shyamalan. The series follows a Philadelphia couple in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy creates a rift in their marriage and opens the door for a mysterious force to enter their home. Tony Basgallop created the series and is the writer-EP.
The news came during the Apple panel at NYCC today that featured all five of the aforementioned names, and ever offered a new teaser for the eerie series.
In the Hammerstein Ballroom, the teaser’s eerie quality and first-look cache were big successes in the room, which was hosting a crowd of about 2,000 souls.
Shyamalan christened a new television format, too: “We’ve all grown up with 30-minute situation comedies, the sitcom; this is a sit-thriller,” the Sixth Sense and Glass director said of the series, which he envisions as saga speed over a half-dozen 10-episode seasons. “With television, you can have a different trajectory of movement [than a longer film]; because you’re going for 30 minutes, you gobble them up. There’s no fat on the bone.”
The trailer bore out the show’s unnerving premise: Philadelphia couple Dorothy (Ambrose of Six Feet Under) and Sean Turner (Kebbell of Kong: Skull Island), reeling after the loss of their baby, bring a life-like doll into their house as part of a fringe coping therapy. Dorothy is so brightened by the doll that she hires a mysterious nanny (Free from Game of Thrones) to watch her, and the trio, along with Sean’s brother (Grint of Harry Potter fame), are put through Shyamalan’s typically provocative ringer.
“The trailer represents what the show is,” said Basgallop, who wrote all the episodes (and rounded out the star and creator panel, which was moderated by MTV News’ Josh Horowitz). “For me, it all dates back to having kids and the fear that anything can go wrong at any time. I’m clumsy, and you get through it but your life absolutely changes. And whenever you do drama, change is a good thing and you put your characters in uncomfortable positions.”
The “incredible apartment,” as Ambrose put it, that serves as the series set only added to that discomfort, since all the action is contained within those walls. “We’re all trapped in this space. For me, nothing [in the script] is casual; every single word is considered and has weight,” she added.
That’s right in Shyamalan’s sweet spot, of course. “I’ve avoided this format,” said the director, whose other experience with television was as executive producer of Wayward Pines. “But the great thing about this project is it’s so connected to its characters.”
The panel, interestingly, were seated around a table prepared for a Thanksgiving dinner, underscoring M. Night’s “sit-thriller” approach a holiday sit-down aura with all the dressing. It wasn’t just a one-time stage gimmick, the holiday spread with food and wine also catered to the show’s bread-and-butter approaches.
“Food is a key theme in the series,” noted Kebbel, was able to fully explore both his life as husband/father and as a chef. “It’s life for Sean. It keeps families together, and you’re always searching for new flavors.”
There’s also a heaping helping of mystery, with much of it connected to the nanny, Leanne.
“She is perfect for this audience,” Shyamalan said. “Six years from now or sooner, there’ll be [attendees dressed up as Leeane] walking around at Comic Con. There’s a mythology to her that we’ll slowly let you in on.” That matched Free’s comfort zone. “In front of camera, I tend to hide a lot, which was useful since you can’t figure her out for most of the series,” she told the crowd. “In my acting style I’m not very good with the big stuff.”
Grint’s brash character, Julian, is a layered role and also has some hide-in-plain-sight aspects.
“I love Julian; he’s someone who’s so outspoken,” Grint said. “Reading the script it was like, ‘No, don’t say that!’ But it was so much fun. It’s almost a kind of façade. He is someone you think he’d be good in a crisis, but it’s really when he comes face-to-face with Leanne that you realize he’s a vulnerable, wounded guy.” One of a collection, it seems.
Shyamalan’s confidence in the longevity of the project comes from how well it fits the profile of most everything else that bears his name. “Take Sixth Sense, and the line, ‘I see dead people,’ he said. “The line is overwritten; it’s for an older character [than Cole] to say. But what the character’s really saying is, ‘I need to tell this to someone.’ And that’s what you’re hearing.”