'Servant' Review for Apple TV+: A superb atmospheric thriller that's a joy to watch

Baby doll from Servant on Apple TV+
(Image: © Apple)

Regardless of what you think of his previous work when M. Night Shyamalan's name is attached to a project, you can bet it's going to turn some heads. The veteran director, producer, and writer is the executive producer of the Apple TV+ thriller/horror series, Servant, and did direct the pilot episode lending the new series a bunch of credibility from the start. Not only is M. Night Shyamalan's style very evident in the series. It's also a solid entry in his body of work.

Throughout the first three episodes, Servant has kept me on the edge of my seat, awaiting what weird and creepy twist and turns are coming down the pipeline. While the series can drag the pacing a bit at times, the atmosphere and tension that it builds through storytelling — both visually and through the script —is compelling and enjoyable as hell.

Spoiler Warning: Beyond this point, I will provide some details of the show's first three episodes. Although I will attempt to avoid any significant spoilers as best as I can, there will be certain plot points and surprises that I talk about. Tread forward with that in mind.

Creepy from the very beginning

From the minute you press play on the first episode of Servant, the atmosphere sets in and immediately begins to creep you out. The soundtrack, the cinematography, and even the set design all are influenced by M. Night Shyamalan (he did direct the pilot), and it grips you right from the very beginning. Of course, the premise of the plot is incredibly surreal and weird, as well.

The show starts you off right as Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell) and his wife Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) is waiting at their home in for their new live-in nanny to arrive. The nanny, Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free), will be tasked to take care of baby Jericho, while Dorothy goes back to work. One problem, baby Jericho is a doll — a very realistic and creepy looking one. It turns out, the Turner's lost their baby, and Dorothy has been having problems coping, so much so that she refuses to acknowledge the baby's death. The doll and pretending to have a kid still is part of her recovery; however, the Sean tell Leanne about this, Leanne seemingly ignores him and acts as though the baby is real.

A big twist in the pilot and every other episode

Nothing I revealed above isn't something that was already in the trailer for the series, heck all of it happens in the first half of the pilot, and yet it seems like so much is going on right from the start.

The dynamic between the delusional Dorothy and her husband Sean (who quite frankly looks and sounds like he's ready to go insane) is palpable on-screen and provides a complex layer of tension before Leanne even shows up. Of course, once the nanny enters the dynamic, even more, layers start to pile on. Who really is Leanne? Why does she act like the doll is real even when Dorothy isn't around? Why doesn't she talk about herself?

"As soon as you press play, the atmosphere sets in and immediately begins to creep you out."

While I'm not very familiar with showrunner Tony Basgallop's (Inside Men, What Remains) previous work, his writing prowess shines through pretty early. The characters feel real, and the dialogue is dripping with subtext and subtle double meanings that establish the previous relationships the characters have with each other, all while compellingly moving the plot forward. Plus, in true M. Night Shyamalan fashion, there are plot twists at every turn, but they are small and impressive reveals of new information.

Across the first three episodes, I have been pleasantly surprised at how the mystery, tension, and overall spookiness has been growing. Each episode has built on the last series of events really well, and all the plot threads intertwine and branch out in some unexpected ways. I have been so excited to watch more; I can't get enough.

Pacing can be inconsistent at times

Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free) is Servant (Image credit: Apple)

I want to be clear that this is a small nitpick, but it is noticeable, which means it worth mentioning. The series is very atmospheric — it takes time to slowly build tension and suspense. This naturally slows the pace of the show; it is not an action movie after all; however, there are a few scenes across the episodes that do tend to linger on a bit longer than they need to.

When the show takes time to reveal new and bizarre information or the dialogue is unveiling insights into the characters, the show is an absolute joy to watch, and I don't mind sitting in a scene or a moment for a time. Luckily, Servant does this about 85% of the time; however, there are a few scenes that just drag.

For example, the dinner scene in the second episode seems slightly pointless and out of place for 90% of it, only to throw a quick bit of important info at you right at the end. Scenes like this one or the eel scene in the third episode could just do with a bit of tightening up, to make the episode just move at a slightly faster pace.

Final thoughts on the first three episodes

Overall, Servant is an excellent thriller that delivers an amazing suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The direct influence of M. Night Shyamalan on the direction of the series is clearly evident and is reminiscent of some of his greatest work across his career. Plus, most of the writing and acting is super compelling, making it a joy to watch.

The pacing of Servant can use a little tightening at points, and in the scenes where nothing of consequence is happening, it can begin to drag a little. The good news is these scenes are few and far between, and if the series continues as strong as the first three episodes, Apple TV+ should have a true bona fide hit on its hands.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.