Roush Review: Work-Life Balance Goes Awry in ‘Severance’

Severance Adam Scott Apple TV+
Apple TV+


Matt's Rating: rating: 4.5 stars

For many, the thought of never bringing your work home is a dream. In Severance, it’s a nightmare.

More sinister than satirical, Apple‘s sleek nine-part sci-fi allegory (produced and directed with understated unease by Ben Stiller) takes viewers within the austere bowels of the monolithic Lumon Industries, where employees have agreed to have their work memories surgically separated from who they are on the outside. Underground, courtesy of this controversial brain implant, the drones performing ill-defined tasks in the Macrodata Refinement department have no idea who their real selves are. (The theme of duality is brilliantly captured in the show’s trippy Escher-like opening credits.)

Severance Adam Scott Apple TV+

(Credit: Apple TV+)

With an expression of wary bafflement that echoes our own, Parks and Recreation‘s Adam Scott stars as newly promoted department chief Mark Scout — “A handshake is available upon request,” announces his chilly boss (Patricia Arquette) as a means of congratulations. Mark, earlier seen sobbing in his car in the Lumon parking lot, placidly and serenely follows the subterranean rulebook, as do his cubical companions Irv (John Turturro) and the more acerbically self-centered Dylan (Zach Cherry).

This all begins to subtly but irrevocably change with the arrival of rebellious new hire Helly (the dynamic Britt Lower) — a nickname for Helen maybe, or possibly hell-raiser? — who has come to replace a co-worker who mysteriously and suddenly vanished. Her surreal indoctrination leaves Helly as disoriented as we are, and her refusal to go along to get along unsettles everyone amid their arid chamber.

But as ingeniously plotted by series creator Dan Erickson, she’s also caught in an existential bind. The more Helly wants out, the more her “outie” self forces her “innie” to return. And when Mark is approached on the outside by a Lumon defector, the lines between their worlds begin to blur in dangerous, unsettling ways. Even the meek Irv begins to push back, forging a forbidden work friendship with an employee from a different department (movingly played by Christopher Walken).

Severance is classic slow-burn TV, lulling you with its hypnotic weirdness before piling on the twists. By the shocking multiple cliffhangers of the ninth episode, I was on the edge of my seat begging for a second season.

Severance, Series Premiere (two episodes, the rest dropping weekly), Friday, February 18, Apple TV+