GameSpot’s TV Show Of 2022: Severance

The concept is deceptively simple: What if there was a literal thing to “check out” when you sit down to report to your job? What if you could functionally turn off your consciousness when it was time to go to work and then bring it back the moment you exited the building? And don’t try to say you’ve never fantasized about something like this before – just think how great your life would be if you never had to deal with an angry customer or a condescending boss again. Imagine how much easier you would feel if the hours you spent at work felt like walking in and waking up from surgical anesthesia, only without all the potential side effects and pain.

Except there’s a dark side to that story too, because something Gotta actually make the work happen, right? And while you are literally not at home in your brain, your body must be controlled somehow. Enter: Severance, the sneaky 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 real. In a world where a shady company called Lumon has actually developed a procedure that allows employees to be “switched off”, meaning that a chip in their brains can turn their conscious mind on and off, people are able to remove themselves from their jobs. They become an “innie”, the consciousness that takes over their brain and body inside their Lumon office, and an “outie”, the person they are in their everyday life when they are not on the clock. For the “outie” persona, this is obviously a pretty good deal – checking out 40 hours a week, not having to worry or stress about what’s going on at work, not knowing any of their colleagues or bosses. But for the “innien” it means becoming a prisoner in the office. The only place they exist, the only place they will ever know, is their job. The moment they leave the building, they are turned off. No holiday. No weekends. No personal life at all.

At the heart of Severance’s first season is 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 cut-throat workers who, at Helly’s arrival to the team, they find themselves slowly stumbling, beginning to unravel the lives they’ve been forced to live in Lumon – all while their “outie” selves continue none the wiser of the torture they’re being subjected to. day after day. Things get even more complicated when Mark runs into his old boss Petey outside. Petey used to be cut, but somehow reversed the procedure, and now needs Mark’s help. That is, after he convinces Mark that he even knows him at all – the two were best friends in Lumon, but on the outside Mark has no memory of him ever existing, much less that they were friends.

It has all the makings of a gritty sci-fi story along the lines 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 really excels is the way it subverts all of those expectations. Rather than being a neon-drenched, bleeding edge techno-futuristic nightmare, Severance feels more like an absurdist workplace dramedy. Lumon and the characters in 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 do) 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’s not. When the horror elements start to fall, they start to fall hard, and the heartbreaking moments only grow more intense as they become more uncomfortable to watch.

Severance emerges and weaves around expectations, delivering a complicated, wholly original, and most importantly impeccably crafted story that will keep you guessing—and then leave of absence you guess as it kicks off its upcoming second season. If you only watch one TV show this year, make sure it’s this one.

Praise Kier.

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