Shahmaran plays with genre and mythology in the service of an intriguing character drama which might be a little too patient for its own good.
This review of the Turkish Netflix series Shahmaran Season 1 is spoiler-free.
I must confess to having laughed at the premise of Shahmaran. You can blame Netflix. The streamer presented a summary to me with such complete seriousness that it was almost parodical: A beautiful woman, a handsome man, they’re a perfect match, except for one thing – he’s half snake. What?
As it turns out this is a serious eight-episode Turkish drama that splices mysticism with romance and fantasy, and a “shahmaran” is indeed a folkloric hybrid of woman and serpent. It’s also a very Turkish interpretation of genre television, which is to say much slower, more careful, and more nuanced than most of its Western equivalents. If you’re looking for an easy analogue, something like The Gift would suffice, another female-led Turkish mystery series with fantastical elements (and wavering quality.)
Shahmaran Season 1 Plot Summary and Review
Our protagonist here is Sahsu (Serenay Sarikaya), a PhD candidate from Istanbul who heads out to Adana to give a give a guest lecture at a university but makes time to give a different kind of lecture to her estranged grandfather, Davut (Mustafa Ugurlu), who abandoned her now-dead mother decades prior. But this is the least of Sahsu’s problems. Her grandfather’s neighbour, Maran (Burak Deniz), and indeed his entire family, are deeply involved in a mystical prophecy that they believe Sahsu is integral to, and once omens and such begin occurring, it turns out they’re probably right.
You can see here the bones of the character drama that Shahmaran grafts onto the more outlandish elements. The core relationships are the familial one between Sahsu and Davut and the romantic – though potentially dangerous – one between Sahsu and Maran. There’s also an intriguing push-pull with Maran and his own family; the battle between obligation and desire, the things he wants to do versus the things he ostensibly must. The storytelling is patient with these characters and their relationships, drip-feeding details of the wider plot through individual moments – a sudden fire, an eerie group suicide – while expressing most of the drama in real-world, human terms.
The pace might be a bit of a turn-off. The show’s in no hurry to get anywhere, but it’s purposefully steady. The characters prove a more compelling anchor than the plot. It helps that both Sahsu and Maran are striking to look at. Serenay Sarikaya is very beautiful, though one gets the sense that the show makes too much of a point of this – she strips down to her underwear at least twice in a single episode, and she’s often framed with a light coating of sweat glistening on her skin and a cigarette lolling from her mouth, as though she’s constantly in a modelling shoot. It isn’t leery or anything, just a little distracting, though I suppose if you can hire leads as handsome as these two, you might as well make the most of it (Maran gets much the same treatment, always posed like a cover model.)
Is Shahmaran Season 1 good?
This very tiny nit-pick aside, Shahmaran continues what is becoming a tradition of Turkish productions on Netflix by being lengthy, patient, and intriguing, giving a somewhat more serious take on genre fare that Netflix releases by the bucketload. Not all audiences will have the time or patience to bother seeing it through, but those who do will probably be rewarded with a memorable experience.
You can stream Shahmaran Season 1 exclusively on Netflix.