Ben Stiller Says His Hit Series Was Influenced By A Huge Sitcom

An interesting intspiration.

By Michileen Martin | Published

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Ben Stiller’s had some great successes in film like Tropic Thunder, along some pretty big misses both in front of the camera (Zoolander 2) and behind (The Cable Guy). But what’s become one of his most unquestionable successes is on the small screen rather than the big one. Apple TV+’s sci-fi thriller Severance proved to be one of this year’s surprise hits, earning an impressive 14 Primetime Emmy nominations. Now Stiller is saying Severance took some surprising inspiration from the sitcom The Office.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Ben Stiller specifically referenced one character as appearing to be a throwback to the folks at Dunder Mifflin. “I love the show The Office, and it was hard not to think, ‘Oh, [Dylan] relates a little bit to Dwight in a way,'” Stiller recalled. “I’d seen Zach [Cherry] in Succession and some other stuff, and I just thought he was so funny and unique.” For those unfamiliar, Cherry plays the hardworking Dylan in Severance who — in spite of his dedication to his job — harbors so many conspiracy theories about his employers, that he fears actual physical violence when he and his co-workers encounter employees from a different office.

Adam Scott, Jon Turturro, Zach Cherry, and Britt Lower in Severance

Besides the obvious connections (like that characters in both shows work in ridiculous offices), there is another link between Severance and The Office though Ben Stiller doesn’t mention it. Looked at a certain way, you could call the whole premise of Severance — the procedure the characters subject themselves to — as a potential extreme reaction to Michael Scott (Steve Carell) of The Office. After all, Scott is in part defined by the fact that he not only refuses to separate his work life from his personal life, but he forces his employees to cross those boundaries as well. He crashes Jim’s (John Krasinski) party when he finds out about it after going through his workers’ emails. He leaves an office party to drag Meredith (Kate Flannery) against her will to a rehab facility. In one episode he demands each one of his employees set him up on a date, and later winds up dating Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) mother. It’s not too difficult to imagine a Dunder Mifflin employee agreeing to a severance procedure without a second thought, considering their boss.

Ben Stiller is the showrunner of Severance and directed 6 of the first season’s 9 episodes. In the series, Adam Scott (Parks & Recreation) plays Mark — a man who volunteered for the eponymous procedure after his wife’s unexpected death. The Severance procedure creates a literal separation between the subject’s life inside and outside of work. Mark never remembers what he does during his work day, and inside of work Mark remembers nothing of his outside life. In fact, the employees refer to themselves as “innies” and their outer selves as “outies.” They are endlessly curious about the lives of their outies and — because, as far as their perception is concerned, they never leave the office — they are basically slaves.