Adam Scott as Mark Scout in episode one of Severance.
Tramell Tillman as Milchick, Zach Cherry as Dylan, John Turturro as Irving, Britt Lower as Helly and Adam Scott as Mark Scout in episode two of Severance.
Jen Tullock as Devon and and Adam Scott as Mark Scout in episode one of Severance.
Adam Scott knows what you're thinking. But just because he's playing a loyal company guy in his new series, Severance, doesn't mean this is the second coming of Parks and Recreation.
"I know I've been in these environments on TV," says the veteran actor, who's also played memorable characters logging long work hours in Eastbound & Down (2009–10) and Party Down (2009–10). "But that's just an interesting way into the show. It makes you think, 'Okay, I know this world. There's something more sinister and strange lurking underneath.'"
In fact, the nine-episode Apple TV+ show (premiering February 18), is a quirky, gripping dystopian drama-thriller with sprinkles of sci-fi seasoning. Directed and executive produced by Ben Stiller, it focuses on the staffers at a company called Lumon Industries who have willingly undergone a "severance" neurological procedure that divides their memories. On the job, they have zero recollections about their personal lives. And at 5 P.M. every day, they walk out the door and their work experiences are instantly scrubbed clean.
Scott's Mark Scout leads a team of three (played by John Turturro, Britt Lower and Zach Cherry) that reports to a stern, enigmatic boss (Patricia Arquette). Grieving his wife, he decides to do the surgery to forget about his loss for the bulk of his day. "He doesn't question anything and he's in a comfortable stasis," Scott says. "But then something happens that upsets the apple cart."
When the actor is off-the-clock, he enjoys surfing through his multitude of small-screen options. "As an audience member, I like to watch more serious things than I do comedy," he says. However, he notes that he recently fanned over ABC's Abbott Elementary ("terrific!") and the MacGruber series on Peacock ("outstanding!").
Now, for Emmys.com, he picks his top seven TV shows, listed in no particular order (except for his all-time favorite, Late Night with David Letterman).
- Late Night with David Letterman (NBC, 1982–93)
It's my No. 1. I discovered it in the mid-80s during the summer before I could drive and had my own five-inch black-and-white TV in my room. The show just broke my mind open as to what's possible on TV. Here was this talk-show host who seemed like he was uncomfortable with being a talk-show host and had all this crazy stuff going on. I loved the "Thrill-Cam" and the conceptual pieces Chris Elliott did. If I missed an episode, I'd be despondent.
- The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007)
I just re-watched it this past fall and had a new appreciation for it. I think being around the same age as Tony Soprano now, I saw his life through a completely different lens. He's such a complicated character and James Gandolfini's performance is fascinating. I'm saying nothing new here, but the show is so rich, and its excellence is pretty astounding.
- Breaking Bad (AMC, 2008–13)
I became a fan after bingeing the first two seasons. It was so, so good. I find suspense, thrillers and horror to be the genres that are really tough to pull off on television because you have to maintain tension over a prolonged period of time in order for it to work. And Breaking Bad did not let up on tension during its entire five-season run — and if it ever did, it was just a tease and then it kicked right back in again.
- Cheers (NBC, 1982–93)
It's a perfect comedy. And Ted Danson? That is a masterful performance. I know how hard it is to be the guy in the center of all the crazy characters: You have to maintain neutrality and keep those balls in the air. At the same time, he found a way to be absolutely hilarious. And those first seasons with Sam and Diane (Shelley Long)... there's a reason why they're still referred to when trying to figure out how to have the perfect relationship on television.
- Escape at Dannemora (Showtime, 2018)
It's a limited series, but I still can't get enough of it. The storytelling is incredible and the characters are so interesting. I think it's a quintessential American story too with these two inmates trying to break out of prison. Patricia is in it [as an employee who helps them escape] and she has no inhibitions, no vanity, nothing. She is just that person who has no concern about being liked, either as an actress or as a character. It's a 360-degree-to-the-bone performance.
- Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009–15)
I so admire and miss everyone on that show and Mike [Schur, co-creator and executive producer] is such a brilliant writer that I can't in good conscience not have it on the list. I had been watching it along with everyone else, and I think Mike was a Party Down fan. We sat down and hit it off and later that day I was asked to join the show. I didn't even think about it. I'm more than happy to have that be the thing people want to talk to me about.
- Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1975–)
It came on the air when I was about two years old, and I remember watching it at my dad's bachelor pad as this new thing taking over pop culture. This was when the cast was dressing up as bees and as Coneheads, and I was trying to figure out what was funny. And all my favorite movies from the 1980s, like The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters and Three Amigos!, came from Saturday Night Live. There isn't a single show that's been more influential to comedy over the past forty-some-odd years.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.