Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is the real deal

Apple TV’s “Sev­er­ance”

Things have been qui­et of late, in this the much her­ald­ed gold­en age of tele­vi­sion. There has been plen­ty of per­fect­ly watch­able, emi­nent­ly ade­quate fod­der on offer from the var­i­ous stream­ing ser­vices and their ter­res­tri­al brethren. But very lit­tle to write home about. 

So it was with a slight sense of wari­ness that I sat down to watch Sev­er­ance, notwith­stand­ing all the noise it’s gen­er­at­ed. But for once, that hype was entire­ly jus­ti­fied. Hap­pi­ly, it’s the real deal.

It’s a high con­cept, Big Idea series. A nefar­i­ous and implic­it­ly evil tech cor­po­ra­tion has invent­ed a chip that allows you to sep­a­rate, sev­er, your work-you from your home-you. So as you work through the mind­less chores at the face­less office where you work, you’ve no idea what you do or who you are for the rest of the day when you’re at home. 

The same neck of the woods.

As you descend in the ele­va­tor at the end of the day, the chip kicks in, and you step out on to the ground floor as your home-you, or what they call your ‘out­ie’. And after you get back into the ele­va­tor as your out­ie the fol­low­ing morn­ing, you emerge on the ‘sev­er­ance’ floor as your ‘innie’. Com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous as what you might have got up to in between. 

Why would any­body want that? Well, Mark has recent­ly lost his wife in a car crash. And, he fig­ures, at least for 8 hours a day he’ll be spared the bot­tom­less grief he’s floored by dur­ing the oth­er 16.

It’s avowed­ly left of field and off kil­ter, and veers from the sur­re­al­ly mun­dane to men­ac­ing and back, often in the same scene. Think Char­lie Kauf­man meets David Lynch, where both have had their wings clipped to rein their flights of fan­cy in. Which is, respec­tive­ly, both good and bad. 

Every­thing about Sev­er­ance is impec­ca­bly craft­ed. The art direc­tion is pris­tine, the direct­ing, by Ben Stiller, is foot per­fect and the act­ing is excep­tion­al across the board. 

All the gang on the Sev­er­ance floor.

Adam Scott takes the lead as Mark, and is impres­sive­ly abet­ted by Britt Low­er, Zach Cher­ry, John Tur­tur­ro and, improb­a­bly, Christo­pher Walken, all of whom are out­stand­ing as his increas­ing­ly rebel­lious co-work­ers. But Patri­cia Arquette man­ages to some­how steal the show, as the near­est thing to a plau­si­ble and gen­uine­ly ter­ri­fy­ing real­i­sa­tion of the wicked witch of the West. 

And, rather than address­ing them head on, it sen­si­bly flirts around the philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions that it rais­es about the self, pur­pose, mean­ing, work-life bal­ance and agency. Most impres­sive­ly of all, it builds momen­tum and rais­es the stakes con­tin­u­al­ly, thanks to the per­fect­ly met­ed out parcels of sto­ry. And the increas­ing­ly com­pelling cliff-hang­ers that each episode con­cludes with.

It might not quite be up there with series 1 of Twin Peaks, and I hope it does a bet­ter job than that show did of main­tain­ing its momen­tum into series 2. But it’s com­fort­ably the best show to grace our screens since Bojack pur­sued and fed his demons (reviewed ear­li­er by me here).

You can see the trail­er for Sev­er­ance here:

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BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s secret sleeper star

BoJack Horse­man.

Sea­son 4 of BoJack Horse­man aired on Net­flix this past autumn, and if you’ve yet to be point­ed in its very par­tic­u­lar direc­tion you’re in for a treat. It’s the lat­est in the long line of ani­mat­ed, adult drame­dies that stretch­es back to South Park (reviewed ear­li­er here), King of the Hill, Beav­is and Butthead and of course the Simp­sons.

Ensconced in his hill­top, pent­house apart­ment in the myth­i­cal LA sub­urb of Hol­ly­woo, BoJack is a washed-up has­been who used to the star of the squeaky-clean sit­com Horsin’ Around, who spends his days in a drug-fuelled, alco­holic haze of priv­i­leged self-pity.

Diane, Todd and BoJack.

The show’s stilet­to humour stems from two sources. On the one hand, it’s a glo­ri­ous­ly acer­bic pick­ing apart of the media land­scape as the worlds of film, tele­vi­sion and pub­lish­ing are glee­ful­ly trashed. Bril­liant­ly barbed one lin­ers are fired back and forth with sar­cas­tic brio, in the way that was sup­posed to have been done in the, whis­per it, dis­ap­point­ing­ly over­rat­ed His Girl Fri­day.

And on the oth­er, half of the char­ac­ters are, by the bye, ani­mals. So Bojack is in fact an actu­al horse. But his ston­er house­guest Todd is a 20 some­thing guy, and Diane, his soul­mate and ghost writer is a 20 some­thing girl. She though is mar­ried to BoJack’s best fren­e­my Mr. Peanut­but­ter, who’s a gold­en Labrador. And his agent Princess Car­o­line is a cat, who lat­er hooks up with a wealthy mouse, heir to the Stil­ton Hotel for­tune. What all this allows for is some fan­tas­ti­cal­ly laboured puns and slap­stick, togeth­er with a pletho­ra of ridicu­lous­ly elab­o­rate setups that even­tu­al­ly pro­duce won­der­ful­ly sil­ly pay-offs.

The main man, Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

All of which would be enjoy­able enough. But what real­ly ele­vates the series is the emo­tion­al depth and com­plex­i­ty that they man­age to reap from the soapy sto­ry­lines that they hang all this on. They do this, as Emi­ly Nuss­baum writes in her piece in the New York­er here, by expand­ing the show’s hori­zons from sea­son 2 on, by giv­ing each of the pro­tag­o­nists their own sto­ry­lines, instead of just focus­ing on BoJack, as they do in sea­son 1. So you end up being as invest­ed in Todd, Diane, Princess Car­o­line and even Mr Peanut­tbut­ter, as you do in BoJack.

The result is both the fun­ni­est, and the most engag­ing show cur­rent­ly being aired any­where on tele­vi­sion. And it’s hard not to con­clude that its showrun­ner and chief writer Raphael Bob Waks­berg is some sort of a lat­ter day Dorothy Park­er. If you’ve yet to sam­ple its delights, then by all means begin at the begin­ning, with sea­son 1. But be warned, it gets sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter from sea­son 2 on.

You can see the trail­er for sea­son 4 of BoJack Horse­man here. And here’s a 10 minute com­pi­la­tion of some of the fun­ni­est bits from sea­son 2 here.

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