Pilot Script Review of Servant
M. Night Shyamalan's Servant is part of the slate of ambitious originals for Apple’s upcoming streaming service that should be launched sometime in 2019. It will debut alongside several other shows, including a morning show drama led by Jennifer Aniston & Reese Witherspoon, a space drama from Ronald D. Moore, world-building drama series See from Steven Knight and Francis Lawrence, and Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories reboot. The half-hour psychological thriller, which received a 10-episode straight-to-series order back in February 2018 may not be the splashiest of the bunch, but it does have M. Night Shyamalan as both executive producer and director of the first episode. So, did Apple make the right bet? Our pilot script review follows...
PILOT SCRIPT TITLE: Reborn
WRITTEN BY: Tony Basgallop
PAGE COUNT: 31 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: It’s raining in present-day New York. In a four story Brownstone house near Park Slope, young married couple Dorothy and Sean Turner -- she’s a TV reporter, he’s professional chef -- are preparing for the arrival of Leanne Grayson, an eighteen year-old girl from Wisconsin that they;ve hired as a nanny for Jericho, their 3 month-old baby boy. We meet Leanne as she’s getting out of a cab. After a polite and warm welcome, she’s given a tour and discovers the cold, small bedroom they've re-arranged for her at the top of the house. On her dressing table: a key and a folder with the words “Duties and responsibilities”. She doesn’t open it yet.
Later that evening, in the kitchen, the couple shoots questions at her about her family while giving her a little something to eat. She has not met the baby yet. Sean offers her champagne, she declines because of her young age. Dorothy is a bit embarrassed. Then she gives her the opportunity to call her family back home. She accepts. Once she’s alone, she hangs up the phone without even dialing. During the night, while both Dorothy and Leanne are sleeping, a wide-awake Sean leaves the bed and enters the nursery. There, he takes his very silent baby on his lap. And...
COMMENTS: This first episode is not very fast-paced -- it’s all about creating the atmosphere and introducing the show's four principal characters, who are all mysterious in their own ways. It's all happening behind closed doors, in this stylish house which is as beautiful as it is frightening, especially when night comes. If it weren't for the tablet that Sean uses at one point, you'd almost think the show was set in the 50s or the 60s. Shyamalan should compensate for the lack of action with his directing, and the actors with their performances. They have the material for it. And of course, there’s a twist! (And, as you might expect from M. Night Shyamalan, another one, too!) The difficulty here is writing about the show without spoiling them. Let’s just say the twists help the shhow enter the world of fantasy and even horror. And they give it instant depth.
While the story centers about the baby, every character seems to be hiding something. Dorothy & Sean are clearly tormented, and their relationship seems fragile. They love each other, but they’re struggling and it shows. There’s denial and bitterness here. Grief too, perhaps? Meanwhile, Leanne is a strange girl who seems too polite, calm and discreet on the surface to be totally honest… We don’t know much about them by the end of the script but we want to know more. Who are they? What have they done? Who should be fearing whom? Many questions come up along the way, including perhaps most importantly: why Leanne? Why did they choose her? Why isn’t she asking more questions? Why isn’t she surprised by some discoveries when we, as viewers?… Is there something she knows that we don’t? Does she have a secret agenda? It’s definitely intriguing and weird. It doesn’t stand out as extraordinarily original, but it doesn’t feel like déjà vu all over again either. It’s sort of comfortable in its uncomfortable ways.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Servant is an M. Night Shyamalan production through and through, and it's the kind of show that could help Apple make some noise in a subtler way than big expensive machines starring huge stars, marking points with both critics and horror fans (more the thrill seekers than the hard core horror lifers). It should resonate with people who loved The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix with a format resembling Amazon’s Homecoming that makes it very binge-worthy.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER