“Severance” is the punk rock of office dramas

Breakup is one of those shows that sticks with you. It sinks into the recesses of your brain as it whispers that there is something wrong with corporate America and every day you show up for your office job you are complicit. That’s because even the most exaggerated details of creator Dan Erickson and directors Ben Stiller and Aoife Mcardle’s thriller are grounded in reality. Breakup is not only one of the most honest versions of office life; it’s a whole new genre of corporate horror that’s a force in itself.

Set in the mysterious Lumon Industries, the series follows a group of employees who have undergone the “suppression” program, a procedure that completely separates employees’ personal lives from their professional lives. The process creates two versions of the same person. When they are at work, employees have no memory of their home life, and when they are off the clock, they have no idea what they have been doing in the office. That’s a lot for the main version of the employee, someone who never has to take the stress of work home. As for the professional version of these employees, there is no memory of their past, their dreams or their identity. They only exist to be a faceless cog in Lumon’s business machine.

Patricia Arquette in Severance Pay
Photo: AppleTV+

This Orwellian hell of corporate America follows Mark (Adam Scott), the office prankster who is unceremoniously promoted to manager following the abrupt dismissal of his best friend from work. But when Mark’s professional life starts to show up in his personal life, that’s when this thriller really takes off. What follows is a saga as disturbing as it is darkly funny.

Perhaps the most disturbing detail of Apple TV+’s latest drama is how much it rejects specificity and emotionality. Lumon Industries could exist in an alternate version of the 1960s, or 30 years in the future. Either option is equally likely. Computers are big and bulky, which could either be a clue to the time period of this series, or a measure of in-universe distraction. Every work outfit feels intentionally bland with multiple dark black suits and beige tops. Even the dialogue feels deeply timeless. True to the experience of these newly created people, the references nod exclusively to things that happened in the workplace. There’s a sterile, unnatural quality to this world where people have to ask for handshakes that also feel deeply right. Anyone who has worked in an office knows the bizarre shorthands and inside jokes that come out of it. They also know how weird and scary those inside jokes feel once the clock strikes 5 p.m.

Yet, even as Lumon tries to flatten this world, glimmers of humanity still shine. It’s the perverse beauty hidden in Breakupsilent cry of monotonous anxiety. These people are still people even after being stripped of all sense of self. We see it in Dylan’s (Zach Cherry) feud with another department, a rivalry that seems so heated and random that it echoes the fervor of a football fan. It’s there in Mark’s nervous acts of rebellion, his quiet jokes and his little secrets. For Irving (John Turturro), it comes across as a sweet budding romance. As for Britt Lower’s Helly, her desperate need to feel something other than the overwhelming monotony of her work defines nearly every moment she’s onscreen. It’s there during his escape attempts, his sarcastic remarks about cutting his boss’s face, his glares, and his close grunts.

Zach Cherry, Britt Lower and John Turturro in Severance
Photo: AppleTV+

In fact, it is by Helly that Breakup capitalizes on its new brand of corporate horror. In nearly every episode, Helly plays the final screaming, running girl in this series. Only, instead of a hulking, characterless man with a machete, the threat trying to end his life is his own career. No matter how hard Helly runs or tries to escape, she always ends up back where she started, stuck in an office chair surrounded by co-workers she can’t stand and doing menial work that has hardly gotten anywhere. of meaning. For Helly, every day in her new workplace is a groundhog day composed of his greatest nightmares. But scariest of all, the only person she can blame for this almost endless torture is herself.

It is this dichotomy that makes Breakup so haunting. So many people wake up every Monday morning filled with dread. Yet, as Breakup constantly stresses that going to work is a conscious choice these same people make every day. This is not a particularly deep point. Many writers, artists, and philosophers have questioned the merit of labor in the modern world. But it’s a point that becomes heartbreaking Breakupcoherence. The more we see Helly threatening, fighting, and planning her way out of the workplace, the more we see her deny his demands to quit. That’s the really disturbing message behind this series. At some point, is job security worth near-constant self-torture?

Corporate America has long been a villain in our media, whether you speak of blade runner Where Jurassic Park. But it’s rare to see this particular enemy depicted as accurately as here. Breakup perfectly captures the true infamy of office life, how you can feel your life wasting away day after day, meeting after meeting, while telling a gripping story about what happens when you completely lose your sense of yourself. If that’s not a major for the modern workplace, nothing is.

The first two episodes of Breakup Apple TV+ premieres Friday, February 18. Subsequent episodes will be released on a weekly basis.

look Breakup on AppleTV+

Diana J. Carleton