M Night Shyamalan and ‘Servant’ Creator Reveal ‘Urban Nightmares’ That Inspired Apple TV+ Thriller

And why their series is rolling out weekly rather than in one big drop

Servant Apple
Apple TV+

You’ve likely seen the promos for M. Night Shyamalan’s new Apple TV+ series “Servant,” and likely have little idea what it’s about beyond being a creepy story with a creepy doll that’s treated like a real baby. And while that’s pretty much par for the course when it comes to a Shyamalan project, we wanted to give you a better idea of what to expect if you plan on binge-watching the thriller’s first three episodes when they drop on Thanksgiving this Thursday.

So TheWrap went straight to the source and asked “Servant” creator Tony Basgallop and Shyamalan, who executive produces and directed episodes of the show, to tell us where they got the idea for this story about Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell), a Philadelphia couple who are in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy creates a rift in their marriage and opens the door for mysterious nanny Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) to enter their home.

The answer? Their own fears about parenting combined with “urban nightmares.”

“Originally, the idea came from having children myself and someone placing that precious newborn right into your hands and the first thought for me was, ‘How can I drop this? How can I break this? Am I right for this? Am I ready to be a parent and all the changes that it’s going to bring into my life?’ So I was very interested to write about parenthood,” Basgallop told us. “But, being the sort of person that I am, I search for the dark side of things and I want to tell the story about parenthood gone wrong, in a sense. And a family who is seemingly perfect to the outside world, but once you get past the facade you realize that everything is broken.”

Basgallop broke it down like this: “This is a story of a young woman who comes into a family to work from them and gently sets about fixing them. But to the family’s eyes, they’re not sure if she’s fixing them or exploiting them. So there’s a great conflict here: You’ve invited someone into your home, you don’t know if they’re there to destroy you or save you.”

The “Glass” filmmaker says what drew him to the project were “a couple urban nightmares” in the series “that we’re dovetailing and talking about.”

“One is the fear that something will happen to your child, that you as parents can’t protect your children,” he said. “And then, the second one is that you bring someone into your home, into a very intimate environment and they’re not what they claim to be. And those kind of dovetail on each other as the story unfolds.”

Shyamalan and Basgallop tell TheWrap they have a multi-season arc planned for “Servant,” which has already been renewed for Season 2 ahead of its series debut this week.

“One of the things I worried about in regards to doing long-form storytelling on television was the whole idea that, ‘Hey let’s just keep telling the story until we tell that story or people stop paying attention to us or we get canceled,’” Shyamalan said. “Unless you’re doing episodic television, and that’s completely appropriate, when you’re doing a serialized thing, I think you need to know where you’re going. And we have a plan for where we’re going.”

While the first three episodes of “Servant” Season 1 will drop all at once, the remaining seven episodes of the Apple TV+ psychological thriller’s first season will roll out on a weekly basis. While this has been the case for other Apple shows that debuted with the streaming service’s launch earlier this month, like “Morning Show” and “See,” the comedy “Dickinson” got a full dump from the start.

Shyamalan explained that he “strongly” prefers doing it week-to-week for “Servant” for a few reasons.

“One is just the nature of doing the mystery and doing a thriller, I want you to be wondering for a week and talking about it with other people that have seen it. That’s important, that’s part of it,” he said. “And the next week you get more information and more mystery. That’s part of the fun of building a community.”

He added: “And what I love about movies is that we get to do it with 500 people in a theater, but this could be a much larger community that’s experiencing it together. And I want to activate that rather than kind of rush through it. And we’re really taking our time with how we’re telling these stories and the cinema involved in each one of them. And I want that to linger with you and become a part of you. I don’t want it to be a Dorito bag, where you eat it as fast as you can and get to the conclusion as fast as you can. I want you to live with it. So it was really important to me that we drop one each week.”

“Servant” premieres Thanksgiving Day on Apple TV+.