[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the series premiere of Servant. Read at your own risk!]
Creepy dolls, like creepy kids, are a staple of the horror genre. Servant, the new Apple TV+ series from executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, dares to ask, Why not turn the creepy doll into a creepy kid? The psychological thriller, which premiered Thursday, centers on Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell), who are living with an eerily lifelike “reborn doll” after their baby, Jericho, died at 13 weeks old. But when Dorothy hires live-in nanny Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) to care for the doll that she believes is her son, Sean gets a shock: By the end of the premiere, the doll has somehow become a living baby.
The twist sends Sean and his brother-in-law, Julian (Rupert Grint), on a tangled investigation into where the baby came from and what secrets Leanne is hiding. But while they ask all the practical questions, they’re also confronted with a moral dilemma: Do they keep the baby? TV Guide asked the cast and executive producers of the drama what they would do if they were in the Turners’ shoes, and the answer was unanimous (if a little bit guilty).
“Yeah, I would keep the baby,” Shyamalan said. “I would be panicked constantly, but I think I would, like most people to some extent, try to go with the thing that solves it the quickest, although it may not be ultimately the thing that solves it in the long term.”
“Someone has to look after it,” Grint conceded. He and co-star Free, debating the ethics of their choice, didn’t seem comforted to learn that series creator Tony Basgallop would do the same.
“He’s mental,” Free joked.
Basgallop, who wrote every episode of the first season, said Servant was inspired by the what-ifs of parenthood. “From the moment [my] baby was born and put in my arms I held her and thought, ‘Oh my god, she’s beautiful. How can I ruin this?'” he recalled. “That notion that I could do something wrong or this could end in tragedy appealed to me as a storyteller. I suddenly saw a dark future ahead.”
Servant balances elements from across genres — supernatural thriller, family drama, and occasionally comedy — as the characters navigate their own worst-case scenarios. “It treads on quite a thin line,” Grint said. “You often think, even when reading the scripts, ‘Is this supernatural? What is going on?’ But everything is kind of rationally explained as well, so it always makes you ask that question. It’s a very surreal, quite dark world.”
To hear Shyamalan tell it, that was the goal of the show: to destabilize the audience and keep people guessing. “The aspiration is that we ride the line between supernatural and a grounded explanation the entire way,” he explained. “We just keep you yo-yoing.”
The fact that Dorothy’s grief has caused her to break from reality only heightens the show’s disorienting atmosphere — even as it makes her the only person who isn’t unsettled by the new baby in the home. “Dorothy’s in such deep denial about this whole situation that to me, to my character, it’s like, Doll, baby, what’s the problem? Everything’s fine!” Ambrose laughed. Still, when it came down to it she and Kebbell couldn’t deny the appeal of a “free baby.”
Servant Episodes 1-3 are streaming now on Apple TV+. New episodes premiere each Friday starting Dec. 6.