The Best Show on Apple TV Plus in 2022 Is Like a Video Game

The Best Show on Apple TV Plus in 2022
Apple TV Plus

If you haven’t been watching Severance on Apple TV Plus, you’re missing out on one of the strangest and finest shows of 2022.

Severance is an effective mix of bizarre workplace comedy and corporate suspense. I couldn’t get enough of it during the first season. It’s usual for shows to give puzzle box tales, but it’s rare to see them put together in such a fascinating, expert way.

Severance has been extended for a second season and judging from the season one finale, the show has plenty of potential for the future. I chatted with creator Dan Erickson about the show’s timeliness, working with series director Ben Stiller, and the reasoning behind the show’s strange atmosphere before the premiere. (Warning: minor plot spoilers ahead.)

Severance is set in a mysterious office run by the Lumon business and follows employees whose personal memories are erased every time they log in for work. They are completely focused on their duties and have no touch with the outside world. That is, until a gang of disgruntled employees set out to expose the corporation’s hidden secrets.

The series mainly relies on the inherent strangeness of office culture, which has been amplified greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Severance is anti-capitalist throughout, especially when it comes to seeing Lumon’s Macrodata Refinement Department gradually rebel against the firm and reclaim control of their life. Its tone is a sleek blend of the office humor from the 1999 satire Office Space, punctuated by the unnerving effect of the best episodes of Black Mirror.

The problem of work/life balance as a cultural touchstone resonates differently in 2022, and creator Erickson is well aware of this after witnessing the world shift throughout the series’ creation.

“We were three weeks out from shooting when the lockdowns occurred, and we wondered, ‘What sort of world are we going to release this show into?'” According to Erickson. “But what was so amusing about it was that it simply changed the situation. I don’t think it took anything away from the tale. It only emphasized how strange and difficult it is to create that barrier [between life and work]. People, I believe, want to preserve control over their personal life. It’s telling to me that when it became dangerous to walk outside, the corporate response was not, ‘Oh, let’s minimize what we have to ask people to do.’ Rather, ‘Let’s just go into their houses.'”

Severance also investigates the weirdness of Lumon’s retrofuturist company: the retro computers and workplace aesthetics appear to have been plucked from the 1980s. This provides the idea that the characters are stepping out of time every time they go to work, which they are in some ways. Workers who receive “severance” treatment effectively construct the second version of themselves who only appear to exist in the office and have no recall of the outside world. It pushes the dual nature of work/life balance to its logical conclusion, which is unsettling to witness.

This series is also one of the year’s most visually striking television shows. It does an excellent job of capturing the strangeness of working at this organization, where the main characters spend their days sorting numbers into “boxes” on their computers with no idea what the numbers signify. Throughout, the visual effects communicate paranoia and disorientation in an isolated work setting. It has the same aesthetic as cerebral shows like Mr. Robot and even video games like indie favorite The Stanley Parable and Hideo Kojima’s ill-fated horror game P.T.

The cast, which includes several funny actors stepping outside of their comfort zones, elevates Severance’s main story. Mark, played by Adam Scott, is mainly the plot’s focal point, and Scott does a fantastic job of integrating his deadpan comedy with his dramatic abilities. John Turturro, Brit Lower, and Zach Cherry round up a close-knit group of office workers who must band together to oppose their boss.

Severance is, at its essence, about office culture brought to its logical conclusion, and it can have a strong resonance for people who work in offices today. When the Macrodata Refinement staff finally meets their quota, it is a watershed moment. They are not only treated to a waffle party, but also to a personalized message in the shape of a retro video game cinematic, almost like the finale of a classic Lucasarts game. It’s an odd, lovely scene, yet it also left me conflicted.

The team of Macrodata Refinement
Apple TV Plus

For players, completing a video game entails several hours of mastering the systems at work and conquering the problems that come with them. A video game’s ending can frequently feel as if the game is finally calling back to you, complimenting you for your efforts, and rewarding you with a sequence that concludes your trip. This is all well and good, but Lumon’s version also serves as criticism on how frequently organizations compensate their employees for their accomplishments with little bonuses and fake praise.

The choice of a classic video game was deliberate, and it matched the tone Severance was looking for wonderfully.

“I emailed Ben Stiller a video of my favorite game as a kid, King’s Quest V. And I thought to myself, ‘This is kind of what I see.’ “According to Erickson. “There was a retrofuturist element in the texts when I first wrote them, but I just enjoyed that style.”

Erickson goes on, “But it wasn’t enough for Ben, who is exceedingly particular about details and reasoning. It was willing to create a universe that was half real and half fantasy, but it had to have its own logic. There’s a sense that you’re in a time and space soup that may be anywhere and at any time. So getting inside the heads of those corporate bosses was both terrifying and entertaining.”

In the season finale, Severance undergoes a huge transformation. Essentially, the work team is exposed to the outside world for the first time, confronted with the reality of who their “outie” colleagues truly are. This was an excellent way to conclude the season, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the plot goes next. However, it turns out that the denouement was not what Erickson had in mind.

There's some weird stuff happening in Lumon Corporation, and Severance
Apple TV Plus

“It’s weird because when we were scripting the season, there was supposed to be another episode following [the conclusion],” Erickson explains. “We discussed this being the penultimate episode and possibly portraying the implications of it. But, after discussing it, I believe Ben was the one who stated, ‘I think this is it.’ That brings the season to a close.’ In the end, we were all of the same minds.”

I’m not generally a fan of cliffhangers, but the lack of complete closure and the air of mystery that followed the finale left me more fascinated than disappointed. We still don’t know much about Lumon. What are the numbers being sorted by the Macro Data Department? What’s next for the “innies” now that they’re back at work?

I can see Severance broadening its reach even further in the coming season, but I hope it doesn’t go too far. The show is at its best when it focuses on the unpleasant aspect of extended office labor and the weird, off-putting patterns of conduct that we submit ourselves to for the 9-to-5. I admired Severance not only for how it embraced oddness but also for how real it could get.

Severance Season 1 is now available on Apple TV Plus.

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