Early in “Servant” Season 2, the Turner family starts a new business. It’s a pizza business, so not far removed from the family patriarch’s purview as a chef, and it’s only temporary, given his cuisine-related curiosities typically extend beyond savory pies. But unlike so many in the food industry who’ve been forced to adapt over the last 10 months, the Turners’ choice to pivot to delivery isn’t COVID-related. The Turners just don’t want to leave the house.
That the pandemic doesn’t transpire during the season — which, like many, had production suspended halfway through due to the virus — isn’t a problem in and of itself. “Servant” crafted a beautiful first season under the same isolated parameters, and there’s a lot of craft work to admire in the new, rather extreme homebound adventures of Sean (Toby Kebbell), Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose), and her little brother Julian (Rupert Grint). Still, it’s hard to shake that it’s the family’s choice to stay indoors. These folks aren’t stuck inside for the sake of society or any other narrative reality; they don’t leave the house (much) because it’s part of the show’s formal conceit: “Servant” is set in one location, whether the story justifies it or not, and in Season 2, the clearest reason not to leave the house seems to be it’s better advertising for Apple.
Much has been made about the various Apple policies dictating how and how often the Cupertino company’s wares are featured onscreen. From the deluge of product placement seen in Apple originals to a mandate that villains in any movie, made anywhere, can’t be seen behind a Mac, the tight-lipped tech giant has been carefully constructing its brand image for decades now. (What a flex it was when the very first shot of the very first Apple TV+ series depicted an iPhone before any human face.)
But in “Servant” Season 2, that not-entirely-subtle-but-convincing-enough branding tarnishes what’s otherwise a very lovely show to look at. Over the course of seven episodes provided (out of 10), I can’t tell you how many key scenes are shown one screen removed, where the camera (run for two episodes by M. Night Shyamalan) frames a TV, or an iPad, or an iPhone, or all three, further distancing the audience from where the actual activity is taking place. Worse still, it forces characters to come up with increasingly elaborate reasons to stay inside, like, say, starting a pizza delivery business. Dorothy does that because she’s hoping to get a peek inside someone’s house, but rather than the traditional, more active, more viewer-friendly option — going to the house and sneaking inside — they choose a passive, slower, and altogether less believable course.
And it doesn’t end there. Much like New York is a character in “Sex and the City,” Apple products become their own character in “Servant.” The family huddles around a glowing screen, watching in horror at events happening elsewhere; news reports blare from every corner of the house, remotely moving the plot along; Julian often carries an iPad while walking in front of the living room TV, conducting two FaceTime calls at once: one through the tablet, the other thanks to an Apple TV set-top box.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
“Servant” is begging to go outside the house, and even when it does, the only way to trace the action is from home. To say this reading of the season is clouded by current conditions may be true — we’re all itching to get outside, and thus a bit more aware when people choose not to — but no one wants to watch people watching people; they want to see them take action and watch the action unfold.
So, product placement aside, what is there to see in Season 2? Plenty of good stuff! Though “Servant” often reads like a comedy that thinks it’s a thriller, there are still some genuinely chilling scenes (that shan’t be spoiled here). Look forward to a hypnotization, eerie occurrences at 2 a.m., and at least one diabolical use of food that, even if you see it coming, proves enjoyable because of how hard the show leans into its culinary theme. Ambrose is even more giddily over the top, Grint angrily slugs back even more wine, and Kebbell finds impressive angry man charm playing a desperate husband caught between supporting his wife and acknowledging reality.
Yes, “Servant” still revolves around Jericho in Season 2, the baby that died and either a) came back to life upon seeing his new nanny, Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), or b) was stolen from a mysterious cult by said nanny and has now been returned. Dorothy and Sean spend all season trying to get him back, whoever he is, with Dorothy still the deluded crackpot who doesn’t remember her son’s death and Sean the all-too-aware responsible one who may be giving in to his wife’s will (by choice or otherwise). No matter what you think you learned after last season’s pseudo-revealing cliffhanger ending, rest assured, more twists are in store. By Episode 7, “Servant” enters a whole new genre, and some fans will roll their eyes at the escalating plot contortions while others should delight in the sheer audacity of writer/creator Tony Basgallop’s ideas.
All in all, I’m much closer to the latter, though much of the enjoyment that “Servant” could deliver is hampered by how it chooses to tell its story. Be that because of Apple’s imposition or pure artistic license, “Servant” still hasn’t come together as cleanly as its Smart Home technology.
“Servant” Season 2 premieres Friday, January 15 on Apple TV+. New episodes will be released weekly throughout its 10-episode run.