Apple TV+’s rough start with original programming doesn’t get any smoother with “Servant,” an eerie new series produced by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directed the pilot. Seemingly inspired by “Rosemary’s Baby,” there’s no recovering from the worm-ridden nature of its concept, which starts off fuzzy and weird and doesn’t get much clearer over time.
Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) and Toby Kebbell play Dorothy and Sean, a well-to-do couple – she’s a local TV newcaster, he’s an accomplished chef – whose marriage has been tested by tragedy. Into their home comes Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), a mysterious, dourly serious live-in nanny, who pretty quickly arouses suspicion by Sean and Dorothy’s brother (“Harry Potter’s” Rupert Grint).
Shyamalan’s movies are notorious for their outlandish twists, and his TV series (see the Fox show “Wayward Pines”) have been characterized by similar qualities. But they have also exhibited a knack for over-stretching ideas and creatively running out of steam, something that “Servant” begins to do in near-record time.
Created by Tony Basgallop, the series is so broadly drawn that its satirical aspects, in terms of privileged yuppies and parenting, get diluted. Those qualities do the performers no favors, especially Ambrose, whose character is problematic in a variety of ways.
Then again, the show strains credulity at various turns – starting, without giving anything away, how long it’s possible to maintain a seemingly absurd deception – and doesn’t benefit from the fact that it’s hard to identify with any of the key players, who for the most part become more impenetrable, not less, as the narrative proceeds.
In essence, the series begins with what theoretically might have provided fodder for a provocative “Black Mirror” episode, then needlessly prolongs that through 10 half-hour installments, with the added warning that the first season ends with a fairly maddening cliffhanger.
Having already invested several hours watching the entire first season, it would be nice to know where “Servant” is heading, or rather, where it finally winds up. But the prospect of sitting through more to find out, frankly, is too high a price, relative to the modest level of sustenance provided by this timed-to-Thanksgiving turkey.
“Servant” premieres Nov. 28 on Apple TV+.