By Liz Shannon Miller
Many struggling comedians dabble (or more than dabble) in web original content… Which is to say, a lot of struggling comedians make YouTube videos with their friends in between open-mic gigs and day jobs.
There’s nothing wrong with that — pursuing one’s dream and honing one’s craft is a noble pursuit — and more importantly, it can be the next step toward greater legitimacy. Like, say, a major online network partnering with and distributing your series.
My Damn Channel’s “Self-Help” stars Danny Abrahms as both “himself” and his own therapist, who guides him through incredibly important issues like asking girls out and whether or not “Danny” should just go ahead and watch another episode of “Breaking Bad” on Netflix. It turns out, for the record, that using yourself as your own therapist maybe doesn’t lead to the best therapy. Which, of course, is the key to the joke.
It would be overstating things to call Abrahms a young Woody Allen (though his awkward demeanor, pursuit of a career in comedy, and use of therapy as a narrative device will likely invoke memories of “Annie Hall”). But Abrahms is definitely following in that tradition of comedy, and more importantly is young enough for his talents to continue to grow and expand beyond that.
On a technical level, “Self-Help”’s only major problem is inconsistent sound design, which betrays its low-budget indie roots: The series was discovered by My Damn Channel’s Rob Barnett and Eric Mortensen at the New York Television Festival, where the original version of “Self-Help” was a semi-finalist for MSN’s Short-Form Storytellers Challenge.
(The lesson there: You never know what might make for a great networking opportunity.)
The first season is slated to run seven episodes, which seem likely to continue setting up “Danny”’s awkward attempts at living — and it’ll be interesting to see if it goes onto a season two, as right now, it’s not clear how exactly it fits into the My Damn Channel brand.
On YouTube, the series hasn’t picked up the following of, say, other My Damn Channel series like “Honchos” and “Daddy Knows Best” — while episodes of those series have viewcounts in the five-figure range, “Self-Help” is stuck in the thousands.
These other shows have just slightly higher production value (and in “Daddy”’s case, some recognizable talent), but it’d be interesting to see what would happen if Abrahms had access to a higher budget (it might make things like showing both “Danny” and The Therapist in the same shot possible).
That said, the bottom line is that each episode is smart and full of an awkward humor that gives the show a personal feel; it’s also incredibly compact — the first four installments never cross the two-minute line.
Which ends up working well: It’s an intriguing premise that lends itself well to the short-form world and, by proving his talent for creating a concept like this, sets up Abrahms well for the expanding the digital marketplace — one that’s hungry for original ideas like this.