Sometimes you watch the pilot of a series and know exactly where it’s going to go. Other times, you watch the pilot and have no clue how the series will shape up over the course of its run. And that is when the wise reviewer of online video decides to refrain from reviewing said show until she’s seen more than just the pilot, because while a cleverly constructed character will go a long way towards anchoring a series, it’s hard to know how well the premise will hold up, if at all.
Atom.com’s The Shaman is a quasi-Odd Couple featuring a Los Angeles schlub named Matt (played by Matt Price) and his new roommate, the Shaman (played by Jason Nash). The Shaman is more Jim-Morrison-as-portrayed-by-Val-Kilmer-in-The Doors than he is Jim Morrison, living in a magical dreamworld that to the rest of us resembles contemporary L.A. and completely incapable of putting on a shirt. (The camera lingers lovingly and often over Nash’s “Will Ferrell-esque physique.”) When the show premiered a couple of weeks ago, I watched and liked the first episode, but decided to wait on reviewing it until a few more episodes were available. It’s a decision that paid off, as the series, now on Episode 3, has managed to keep the concept fresh and entertaining.
The set-up is a clear riff on a genre of storytelling perfected by sitcoms like Perfect Strangers, though Matt — the not-Balky of the pairing — is the weak link of the series, as not enough’s been done with his character to make him feel fully realized. Why he wants a job in a clothing store in the second episode, for example, is a complete mystery to me. But while on his own Matt doesn’t add much, he’s a strong foil for the Shaman — the extended sequence in Episode 3, in which Matt must carefully explain that full release massage counts as prostitution, is a highlight of the series so far.
The show makes solid use of the Los Angeles comedy scene — not only setting part of Episode 2 at the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy theater, but enlisting the acting talents of Nick Kroll, Moon Zappa and Laura Silverman (the Sklar Brothers are also due to make an appearance).
What really works about the Shaman as a character is the way Nash regularly pulls the character back from flat-out absurdism; he’s almost quasi-functional in the real world, and that self-awareness is what makes the character likable. The Shaman probably wouldn’t work as a feature — heck, it probably wouldn’t even play as a recurring SNL sketch — but as the anchor for a narrative, Nash’s comic creation is immensely appealing. Part of me almost wishes I’d waited longer than three weeks to catch up on the show. That way, I’d have more to watch.