TAGGED AS: Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi, science fiction, streaming, television, TV
Severance, the high concept series from director Ben Stiller, is Apple TV+’s first standout sci-fi outing. Adam Scott’s Mark, John Turturro’s Irving, Britt Lower’s Helly, and Zach Cherry’s Dylan are a group of workers employed by a mysterious company named Lumon that requires every new hire to undergo a surgical procedure to separate their work-life memories from everything else. Patricia Arquette, Christopher Walken, and Tramell Tillman add to the oddly ominous vibe of the place as themes of free will, faith, and corporate overreach play out episodically.
Under Stiller’s direction, Severance cemented itself as a must-watch program filled with set direction, ambiance, and creepy minimalism reminiscent of the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Apple knows a good thing when it sees it and has since ordered a season 2 renewal.
While we wait for new episodes to hit the streamer, here is a list of 10 mind-bending shows like Severance that will surely tide you over.
Greg Daniels, the guy that brought The Office to America, created this offbeat high-concept comedy. The year is 2033 and a new technology offers the ability to transfer a person’s consciousness to a virtual world upon their death. Robbie Amell stars as Nathan, a coder and tech developer who, after an untimely accident, finds himself living in this new simulated reality. As the series progresses, Nathan does his best to acclimate to his baffling afterlife surroundings as a bigger conspiracy involving his fatal accident begins to reveal itself.
Where to watch: 2 seasons on Prime Video
Alex Garland’s first foray into television flew under many viewers’ radar, which makes this mind-bending miniseries a good binge for those who missed it. Starring Sonoya Mizuno, Allison Pill, and Nick Offerman, the series follows software engineer Lily Chan (Mizuno) who, after her boyfriend mysteriously dies, begins suspecting Amaya, the company she works at, of committing the evil deed. Through its self-contained eight-episode story, Devs takes the audience on a sci-fi trip into the world of quantum physics – and threads together themes of free will, grief, and morality along the way.
Where to watch: 1 season on Hulu, Vudu
Made For Love takes the concepts of manufactured romance and free will for a spin. Cristin Milioti, Ray Romano, and Billy Magnussen star in this series, which follows Hazel (Milioti), a woman who, after 10 years of marriage, discovers she was the victim of his manipulative gadgets, including a tracking device planted in her own skull. Based on the book by Alissa Nutting, the program explores issues of corporate accountability, technological overreach, and privacy. The dark comedy’s second season premieres on April 28, so now’s a good time to catch up.
Where to watch: 1 season on HBO Max
Rami Malek became a household name with his Emmy-winning performance as Elliot, a cybersecurity expert who moonlights as a computer hacker. After Elliot is recruited by a stranger, known simply as “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater), and joins an underground group of like-minded hackers with the goal of leveling the corporate playing field by eliminating all consumer debt, he gets immersed in an Illuminati-style adventure that just might get him killed. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too. Over the show’s four seasons, Mr. Robot dove head-first into technological espionage and psychological intrigue as themes of social justice, class warfare, child trauma, and mental health played out.
Where to watch: 4 seasons on Prime Video, Vudu
After making a name for himself as the director and executive producer of season 1 of HBO’s True Detective, Cary Joji Fukunaga took his auteur skills to Netflix to helm Maniac, which stars Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, and Sally Field. The trippy miniseries takes place in New York, in a not-so-distant future, where strangers Annie (Stone) and Owen (Hill) take part in a collection of pharmaceutical drug trials that send them crashing through their perceived realities and flip their understanding of time and space. Maniac is a high-concept exploration of trauma, death, and grief and how these darker themes relate to the overall human experience. Oh, and there’s plenty of “big pharma = bad” messaging in there, to boot.
Where to watch: 1 season on Netflix
Orphan Black follows streetwise hustler Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), who, after witnessing the suicide of a woman who looked exactly like her, gets thrust into a life-altering conspiracy. It turns out that Sarah’s whole existence has been manufactured. She is one of seven clones, who end up working together to find answers as to why they are what they are, why they were created in the first place, and why they’re being targeted for destruction. Throughout its five seasons, the series continually threads the morality needle through what can be accomplished with technological advancements.
Where to watch: 5 seasons on Vudu
Counterpart lasted just two seasons, but it left a definitive mark. The series, which initially aired on Starz, follows an average-looking man named Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons), who works a menial desk job as a low-level bureaucrat at the United Nations delivering messages. The messages he is dispatching, it turns out, are being sent to a parallel Earth, referred to in the series as “Earth Prime.” There, Howard Silk Prime holds court as a cold-blooded intelligence operative. And when the two meet, things get even more complicated as planetary conditions alter and hefty political power plays are put in motion.
Where to watch: 2 seasons on Prime Video, Vudu
After Mr. Robot ended, creator Sam Esmail continued exploring the notion of free will at the hands of technology with Prime Video’s Homecoming. Like Severance, the series features a group of government employees who suffer from brain fog blocking them from recalling who they are and what they do. Season 1 features Julia Roberts in her first lead television role, playing Heidi, a waitress-turned-social worker whose work at the mysterious Geist Corporation helps soldiers transition to civilian life. More is going on under the surface, obviously, and throughout the show’s two seasons, the paranoid drama explores themes of memory, identity, and manipulation, all in service of a shadow government entity’s insidious motivations.
Where to watch: 2 seasons on Prime Video, Vudu
Corporate skips the sci-fi genre entirely but is still a lot like Severance in the ways in which office life is depicted. The dark comedy mixes the humorous sensibilities of The Office with the bleak tone of Mr. Robot while poking horrifying fun at the evils of corporate America. Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson co-created the program, and star as two proverbial put-upon cogs in the machine, who are on the fast track to becoming the suits they despise. The series, which originally aired on Comedy Central, explores the goings-on at Hampton Deville — a mega-corporation that produces everything from agricultural products and pharmaceuticals to kitchen appliances and military-grade weapons — and the employees who do their best to traverse the daily horrors of this toxic work environment.
Where to watch: 3 seasons on Paramount+, Vudu
Technology and free will are two components that have popped up a lot in this list, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t include HBO’s groundbreaking dystopian sci-fi hit Westworld to the mix. Created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, and inspired by the Michael Crichton–directed cult film, the genre mashup breathed new life into the notion of a robot theme park where rich people could visit and live out their wildest fantasies. But what happens when the humanoid hosts that were built to serve their visitors every whim become sentient? All out chaos, that’s what. Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins, Aaron Paul, Thandiwe Newton, Jimmi Simpson, Ben Barnes, and Ed Harris make up the all-star cast of the genre-bending hit.
Where to watch: 3 seasons on HBO Max