GameSpot's TV Show Of 2022: Severance
AppleTV+'s surreal workplace drama knocked us out.
The concept is deceptively simple on its head: What if "checking out" when you sit down to clock in for your day job was a literal thing? What if you could, functionally, turn off your consciousness when it came time to go to work and then bring it back the moment you stepped out of the building? And don't try to say you've never fantasized about something like it before--just imagine how great your life would be if you never had to deal with an angry customer or a condescending boss ever again. Imagine how much lighter you'd feel if the hours you spent at work felt like going in and waking up from surgical anesthetic, just without all the potential side effects and pain.
Except, there's a dark side to that story, too, because something has to actually make the work happen, right? And even if you're very literally not home in your brain, your body needs to be piloted one way or another. Enter: Severance, the plucky little AppleTV+ original that came out of nowhere to become GameSpot's favorite TV show of 2022.
Severance is the story of that fantasy made into a reality. In a world where a shady corporation called Lumon has actually developed a procedure that allows employees to be "severed," meaning a chip in their brain can turn their conscious mind on and off, people are able to completely remove themselves from their jobs. They become an "innie," the consciousness that takes over their brain and body on the inside of their Lumon office, and an "outie," the person they are in their day-to-day lives when not on the clock. For the "outie" persona, this is obviously a pretty great deal--checking out for 40 hours a week, not having to worry or stress about what's happening at work, not knowing any of their coworkers or bosses. But for the "innie," it means becoming a prisoner to the office. The only place they exist, the only place they'll ever know, is their job. The moment they leave the building, they're switched off. No vacation. No weekends. No personal life at all.
The core of Severance's first season lies in Mark S (Adam Scott) and his team of Macrodata Refiners, Dylan G (Zach Cherry), Irving B (John Turturro), and Helly R (Britt Lower), a group of severed workers who, upon Helly's arrival to the team, find themselves slowly stumbling, beginning to unravel the life they've been forced to live within Lumon--all while their "outie" selves, continue on none the wiser to the torture they're putting themselves through day after day. Things get even more complicated when Mark runs into his old boss Petey on the outside. Petey used to be severed, but got the procedure reversed somehow, and now needs Mark's help. That is, after he convinces Mark that he even knows him at all--the two were best friends within Lumon, but on the outside, Mark has no memory that he ever even existed, much less that they were pals.
It has all the makings of a gritty sci-fi story in the vein of Westworld or Blade Runner–where does consciousness begin and end? What constitutes a sentient thing? How much autonomy and agency does an "artificial" thing have? But where Severance truly excels is the way it subverts all those expectations. Rather than being a neon-drenched, bleeding-edge techno futurist nightmare, Severance feels more like an absurdist workplace dramedy. Lumon and the characters within it feel like they could have wandered out of something like Being John Malkovitch or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The maze-like quality of the building (and the mystery of what Lumon even does) feels both ominous and deeply funny, full of weird wax sculptures and buzz-word-y corporate mumbo jumbo). It's funny–extremely funny, even–until it isn't. When the horror elements start dropping, they start dropping hard, and the heartbreaking moments only get more intense as they get more uncomfortable to watch.
Severance ducks and weaves around expectations, delivering a complicated, totally original, and most importantly impeccably well made story that will keep you guessing–and then leave you guessing as it tees up its upcoming second season. If you only watch one TV show this year, make sure it's this one.
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