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Apple TV Plus' Servant: M. Night Shyamalan's new baby will keep you up at night

Review: The disturbing new thriller is much more than a haunting tale of a baby named Jericho.

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- 03:11
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The doll isn't the creepiest thing featured in M. Night Shyamalan's thriller Servant.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Warning: Spoilers ahead. 

Being a new parent isn't easy. Night-time feedings, endless crying, toxic diapers and the constant worry that at any moment something will go terribly wrong with your beautiful newborn. 

In Apple's new horror series Servant, which airs weekly until its finale on Jan. 17, something goes wrong for Philadelphia couple Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean (Toby Kebbell). But the death of their baby son is only the beginning of the nightmare in the new TV series from M. Night Shyamalan (Glass), streaming now on Apple TV Plus.

The devastated parents turn to a hyper-realistic baby doll that looks like their late son Jericho, as a therapeutic device to get through their debilitating grief. But what was supposed to be a short-term solution turns extra creepy when the mother bonds a bit too much with the doll. 

Against her husband's wishes, she hires the young nanny Leanne, played by Nell Tiger Free, to look after the ersatz infant. Dorothy instantly feels a bond with the devoutly religious nanny, especially when Leanne seamlessly goes along with the delusion that the doll is a real baby. Unless it actually is a real baby... 

Servant is created and written by Tony Basgallop (Inside Men), with M. Night Shyamalan producing and directing. While Shyamalan isn't writing the series, his eerie style is present throughout thanks to extreme close-ups of unappetizing food and tension-filled faces, claustrophobic camera angles and callouts to classic horror films like Rosemary's Baby and The Blair Witch Project

Sean is a smug stay-at-home chef who creates unusual recipes to impress restaurateurs and foodies alike. Servant has Sean creating bizarre dishes that seem to get weirder and creepier with each episode. The bloody food prep feels like a horror film on its own. If Servant was nothing but Sean cooking segments, I would have enough nightmare fuel for months. He skins a live eel! 

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Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) have more than a few tense moments in the new series Servant.

Apple TV Plus

Servant does an excellent job making the viewer paranoid throughout the story. I was put off by the slow-burn pace of the first three episodes, but with the fourth episode revealing even more of the nanny's backstory and plenty of weirdness added here and there to keep the tension flowing, I'm hooked. 

I find myself obsessively asking questions about the tiniest details on the show. Why does Leanne the nanny make odd straw crosses to hang over the baby's crib? Why does Dorothy sometimes zone out, staring into space for no reason? What secrets are hidden by Dorothy's alcoholic brother Julian (played expertly by Rupert Grint)? 

What makes Servant compelling to watch is that as the story unfolds it's hard to decide who the real threat to the terrifyingly vulnerable baby is. Is it Leanne, who might have done something truly unspeakable? Is it the manic Dorothy, who can't deal with the truth about her son? Is it Sean, who seems more distracted by unraveling Leanne's secrets than offering solace to his traumatized wife? Maybe brother Julian is keeping more to himself than he's letting on. 

I have so many questions!

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Leanne the nanny (Nell Tiger Free) may have a sinister secret in Servant.

Apple TV

The series also hints that Sean sees parenthood as its own horror film. In flashbacks, he doesn't seem too excited when Dorothy gets pregnant. And after the tragedy, and the doll-baby swap, he seems even more reluctant to even hold Jericho. It's almost as if he never wanted a baby to begin with. This second-chance Jericho feels less like a miracle baby and more like a curse to Sean.

As the show unfolds, it seems there's danger all around the baby's bassinet. You don't have to be a parent for this baby to keep you awake at night.