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Severance

Entry updated 31 July 2022. Tagged: TV.

US tv series (2022-current). Endeavour Content / Red Hour Films, distributed by Apple TV+. Created by Dan Erickson. Directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle. Written by Dan Erickson. Other writers are Andrew Colville, Kari Drake, Anna Ouyang Moench, Amanda Overton, Helen Leigh and Chris Black. Cast includes Patrician Arquette, Michael Chernus, Zach Cherry, Dichen Lachman, Britt Lower, Adam Scott, Tramell Tillman, Jen Tullock, John Turturro and Christopher Walken. Nine 40-57 minute episodes. Colour.

A Dystopian workplace Satire in the vein of Philip K Dick, in which the titular procedure is a form of selective Memory Edit. Employees at Lumon Industries volunteer to have their memories "severed", so that while at home they have no memory of what they do at the office, and while at the office they have no knowledge of their former life in the outside world. In practice these lives come to be treated as two different people – "outies", who know only evenings and weekends of leisure, and "innies", for whom life is subjectively an eternity of incomprehensible busywork in a windowless labyrinth. From the point of view of an innie, every day is a Time Loop in which their 5pm departure from the office instantly segues into their 9am return.

Shepherded to the screen by Hollywood actor and comedian Ben Stiller and starring the congenial Adam Scott, Severance might have been expected to lean hard into the corporate satire. However, the Humour of the premise is quickly eclipsed by the show's nightmarish tone. Innies are seemingly tortured in a mysterious Break Room, or attempt suicide. Outies feel haunted by Paranoia. Almost no extras are ever seen on screen – likely a side-effect of Severance's production at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – and whether in the over-lit hell of the Lumon premises or a snowbound desolation of town life above, the characters of Severance seem eternally isolated.

Although structured as a mystery, Severance functions almost more like a sitcom in its repetitive, character-driven episodes. Over the nine episodes of its first season, conspiracies and revolutions are glimpsed but no resolution to its mysteries are forthcoming. Critical response was highly positive and a second season was immediately greenlit by Apple. [JN]

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