"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Severance 1.1-1.2: Erving Goffman Meets The Prisoner

Finally saw the first two episodes of Severance.  Well it's only been up on Apple TV+ for less than a week, and I'd intended to watch them earlier, but got caught up in other things, and I wanted to give those two episodes my full attention.  Hey, I almost sound like a perpetually apologetic worker (John Turturro's Irving in particular) in that quasi-totalitarian workplace, in which workers or "innies" have no knowledge of their lives outside of work, and vice versa, hence the title of the series, Severance.

Totalitarian is a good word for the ambience of this new series, reminiscent in various ways of George Orwell's 1984 and The Prisoner (great 1960s TV series).  At this point, we don't know how or why this schizoid society arose, and neither do the inhabitants that we've met.  Fortunately, by the end of the second episode, we meet a former employee, Petey, who has somehow re-integrated his workplace and off-time personas, and is beginning to spark an undoing of this system, in which the severance is said to be irreversible.

One of the sociologists in our off-screen world who would have had a lot to say about Severance is Erving Goffman (1922-1982), who said in The Presentation of Everyday Life (1956/1959) we all have front regions, that we show to our public, and back regions, in which we interact with our close friends and families.  A waiter in a restaurant, for example, might be perfectly polite and friendly to an obnoxious customer, and then tell his or her spouse later that night about the jackass in the restaurant.   Of course, that waiter has continuous memories of both front (public) and back (private) regions, unlike the severed workers in Severance.

It's been a while since I've encountered as coldly and frighteningly intellectual a science fiction narrative as Severance.  In addition to Turturro, the series has Christopher Walken and Patricia Arquette in supportive roles, and Adam Scott in a strong performance in the lead role as Mark, severed, but now in contact with Petey on the outside.  I'm going to give this series, directed by Ben Stiller, a shot -- see you back here with my next review in a few days.


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