Until Thursday night's panel at New York Comic-Con, audiences had basically no information about Servant, the new show from Apple TV+ and M. Night Shyamalan. Though there's still no trailer available to the public, loads of information was dropped to keep audiences satisfied until the show hits on Thanksgiving Day, November 28.
Before today, the only detail released about the show was the talent attached: Shyamalan and stars, Toby Kebbell, Rupert Grint, Lauren Ambrose and Nell Tiger Free. On top of the release date, Thursday night's panel brought tons of insight, the first glimpse of a trailer and, finally, a plot synopsis.
When first introducing the show to the audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom, Shyamalan remarked on how his art always reflects himself in personal, specific ways, and that's how he makes it as powerful as it can be.
"If you can be you, as specifically as you can, everything about you -- your arrogance, your insecurities, your confidence -- just be honest, when you're doing a song or an essay or a show. You have the power, it shoots up into the sky; we all can hear when one of us is being authentic and okay with ourselves.
"Saying 'I'm scared' shoots into the sky and becomes super powerful. With that ethos, the idea of saying I'm Indian, I was born in Puducherry, India, I live in Philly, I love that city... and I love that. So we're talking about a specific couple in a specific house and what happens to them."
The trailer itself, which Shyamalan said is set to release in three to four weeks, offered a brief look at Servant's premise, bathed in the director's trademark style.
Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell lead as a well-off suburban couple in Philadelphia. They hire a babysitter, played by Nell Tiger Free, to take care of their young baby, but there's something clearly off with her -- she has a vaguely creepy demeanor. Rupert Grint is also in the cast as Ambrose's brother, a character Grint described as brash, outspoken and blunt. As far as Shyamalan and series writer, Tony Basgallop led on, the entire show takes place within the confines of the home and only features those four characters.
Now, we say four characters because something quite odd is revealed halfway through the trailer, in its own "Shyamalan Twist" sort of way: the baby's not real. After the couples' baby disappeared when it was just 13-weeks-old, they began using a very unique form of therapy involving a doll to cope. The doll itself is creepily realistic, and if you look for it, you can see it in the cryptic teaser dropped during the panel.
From there, the trailer becomes a sizzle reel of suspense, no longer offering looks at the story to come and instead focusing more on setting the characters and the tone. Clearly, there are many mysteries building within the story, including how the couple's baby disappeared, what's going on with the girl who is babysitting a doll, and why Rupert Grint's character is involved at all. It's set to be something of a boiling pot, and it looks to be an absolutely thrilling ride.
Stylistically, the show sees Shyamalan leaning heavily into the Hitchcockian aesthetic that's defined much of his work. Wide shots blend dark, rich shadows into stark silhouettes meet brightly-illuminated closeups on the actors' faces, the trailer alone is some of his most visually interesting stuff. Though the Sixth Sense filmmaker only directed two of the first season's episodes, he acts as an executive producer on the show and says the series was even edited in his home.
When first describing how the show came about, Shyamalan mentions that he's always been hesitant to focus too heavily on television since it is such a time commitment. Because of this, the first season of Servant will consist of 10 half-hour episodes. Shyamalan envisions the series lasting 60 episodes over the span of six years, and production has already wrapped on the first season.
With such a long-form planning process, it's easy to worry that Servant, like so many streaming series before it, may sacrifice the individuality of episodes for the sake of the larger narrative, essentially turning the TV show into a massive film. Thankfully, Basgallop ensures a focus on self-contained episodes that work toward telling a larger arc.
"I want to stress that this isn't just like a really long movie that's been cut up. I think it's kind of like making 10 movies that are short, and it is a very different structure than doing a movie. You have to put three acts in each episode."
Toward the end of the panel, the four cast members of Servant took to the stage and discussed the show with the Executive Producers, sweetly commenting on how well the group worked with Shyamalan. In terms of his casting methods, Shyamalan says he prefers to use either stage-trained actors or little-known actors with almost no experience. Due to his preference for long, close-up shots on the face of a performer, he says he is more likely to trust the precision of a stage actor or the willingness to take direction from a newcomer.
In response to this, Ambrose remarked on how comfortable Shyamalan made them feel on set, willing to trust their producer to effectively utilize their skills. "As an actor, you feel so held and protected. Somebody who is a master of the thriller genre, a godfather is here to make sure you are covered."