It's a testament to Mike Judge's turn-of-the-millennium slacker comedy 'Office Space' that whenever you set a piece of fiction in or near an office, it's automatically brought up by association.
To be clear, 'Severance' is nowhere near as overtly comical as 'Office Space', nor does it occupy the same kind of easygoing, laissez-faire attitudes of the carefree '90s that 'Office Space' has. What 'Severance' shares in common with 'Office Space' is showcasing the quiet desperation and the endless void of mid-level corporate civilisation. It's mental health walks through pale corridors, never feeling like you've left the office, or memorising corporate values and reciting like scripture. In 'Severance' however, it's all taken to an extreme that brings into the realm of 'The Twilight Zone' or more recent efforts like 'Black Mirror'.
In this world, the corporation Lumon is all-knowing, all-seeing, and its edicts and laws are carried out in force with steely, religious piety by a silver-haired Patricia Arquette. The mystery is focused on a "severed" floor of their offices, where workers literally have no memory of their life outside this floor and vice versa. When they're out in our world, they know they work for Lumon but the precise details are completely severed from their memory. When they're down on the severed floor, they only have slight indicators of their other personality - their "outie", as it's called - to guide them. There's a heartbreaking scene where John Turturro's apparatchik co-worker is brought into a corporate wellness session and given comforting platitudes that his "outie" is a good dancer, is well-liked by his friends, and has a rich social life.
The crux of the story rests on Adam Scott's character and his relationship with newcomer Britt Lower, who is dropped into the severed floor and immediately is at odds with the entire system. What's so fascinating about 'Severance' is that it takes the idea of severing yourself from yourself for eight hours and runs it through every emotional aspect. Some people do it because their lives outside of the office are so rotten and hard that they need to forget it entirely in order to function. Others do it because they simply don't want to think about the work they do and have it hold no importance in their lives. Moreover, the differences between the personalities is startling and, in some cases, kind of disturbing. Adam Scott, down on the severed floor, is mild-mannered and well-meaning, almost like an icy version of his character from 'Parks & Recreation'. Yet, when he's up in the world, he's morose, he drinks way too much, and lives a life cloaked in sadness from personal loss.
'Severance', as you might have gathered by now, isn't anything like a wham-bam spectacular, nor does it offer up easy answers or explanations. It's much too smart for that, and doesn't really care whether or not it's getting bogged down in the contemplative nature of labour, humanity, economy, and philosophy. It's not to say that it isn't compelling, however. The mystery elements of the show keep you wrapped, and trying to pick apart the laws and mechanics of the world is what keeps you coming back. Likewise, trying to figure out what everyone is up to and what they're actually doing on the severed floor is one of the biggest reasons to keep watching.
With strong performances by the ensemble cast, sharp direction by Ben Stiller and Tyrone native Aoife McArdle, layered writing, and a clear concept, 'Severance' is smart and stylish television, though it may suffer from a certain amount of impenetrability.
'Severance' begins with two episodes on February 18th and runs weekly until April 8th.