By: Shawn McKee
The FX series What We Do in the Shadows is top-notch, quality entertainment. No detail is spared, from the sets, costumes, special effects, and makeup, the show retains every theatrical element of the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy film of the same name.
The movie was directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame and Taika Waititi, writer/director of the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit (2019), among other films. Their unique, fresh, and often hilarious take on the vampire genre was seamlessly adapted into a television series that just wrapped up its third season. Clement and Waititi are heavily involved in the show’s production and even reprise their roles from the film as sitting members of the esteemed Vampiric Council.
The series continues the trend of portraying centuries-old vampires living together in modern times. Their escapades are captured by a documentary crew in the vein of The Office and other “mockumentary” comedies. This is Spinal Tap (1984) was an early example as was the Albert Brooks satire Real Life (1979). Brooks’s movie is about a documentary filmmaker living with an all-American family to capture their daily lives, but in Shadows, we don’t know who the documentary crew is. Most of the time, we forget they’re even there.
I contend that Shadows is the best comedy show since It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now approaching its fifteenth season). They both rank, in my twisted opinion, as the finest sitcoms of the past decade. Their sharp, outlandish humor and perfect casting lead to hysterical results. They’re also both property of the FX network, who played their cards right with two gems that continually restore my waning faith in American comedy.
What We Do in the Shadows premiered on television in 2019. At the time, I was a tad confused by the trailers showing a different group of vampires living together in New York. I didn’t know if it was a direct adaptation of the movie or something completely different. A few episodes in, I was sold by its fast-paced humor, deft comedic timing, and high production values.
The show follows four vampire roommates in their gothic Staten Island home, having traveled to the U.S. from Europe decades prior. There’s suave, sex obsessed Laslzo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), his vampire bride Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), bachelor Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), dedicated familiar (now bodyguard) Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), and energy vampire outcast Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).
Each character plays a vital part to the overall story. As roommates, the vampires are dysfunctional, aloof, and completely moronic. That, among other traits, is just part of the charm. The undeniable chemistry between the cast propels the show’s offbeat, unique brand of humor and clever writing. Though seemingly episodic in nature, there is an evolving plot that advances with each season. And if the largely brilliant third season showed us anything, it’s that Shadows shows no signs of slowing down.
The premiere of the ten-episode season begins with “The Prisoner,” featuring hopelessly loyal familiar/servant Guillermo locked in his vampire masters’ basement after slaughtering a hoard of vampires who had entrapped Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin into attending the prestigious Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires. The entire event was a trap to execute them for murdering other vampires, namely the ancient Baron Afanas from the earlier season. What no one knows is that Guillermo has been inadvertently behind all the vampire deaths thus far. As a descendent of famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, it’s in his blood.
Following the theater massacre, the vampire roommates are unsure what to do with Guillermo. He saved their lives, but he is also a vampire killer by nature. Though Guillermo is caged and presumably prisoner, the gang don’t notice as he slips out of his cage each night to do his chores at night and look after them. He even has time to go to Arby’s during the day. They eventually decide to let him live and “release” him with a promotion to bodyguard. This, of course, follows an ineffective ritual where they engage in a hypnosis ritual to prevent him from harming them.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Vampiric Council deliver a videotaped message, informing Nandor, Nadjga, Laszlo, and Colin that since all the powerful vampires of New York area were killed, they, in fact, will be appointed the head a new council. Nandor and Nadjga immediately square off for the throne as Guillermo schemes in the background.
Guillermo’s intriguing development throughout the series continues unabated. After ten years of service, he remains entirely dedicated to his master, Nandor with hopes of becoming a vampire one day. It’s revealed early on, however, that no familiar ever actually becomes a vampire. But Guillermo’s budding confidence and increasing friction with Nandor provide some of the show’s most genuine depth.
The third seasons contains four brilliant episodes, four good ones, and two that are slightly filler. In one particularly stellar episode, the troupe go on vacation to Atlantic City, where they barely survive due to the cleaning woman throwing out their bags of native dirt needed to sleep. In another, Nandor joins a cult-like wellness center of “formerly fanged” iconoclasts who have rejected vampire lifestyle and wish to become human.
We see the return of the Baron Afanas (what’s left of him anyway), incredibly played by Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones. Nadja rises in the council ranks as Nandor grows sullen and depressed by his loneliness and immortality. Laszlo strangely links up with Colin Robinson for many episodes, and we soon find out why. Energy vampires only live for a hundred years, and Colin is nearing his 100th birthday.
The third season begins and ends on a high note. Both episodes are perfect bookends to an engrossing storyline that provides real growth for its characters, despite their farcical environment. Shadows shows that, human or vampire, we all desire purpose. By the finale, Nadja has been invited to join the Supreme Council in London and frets leaving Laszlo, her love, due to his hatred of the old country.
Nandor, meanwhile, embarks on his journey of self-discovery, leaving Guillemro feeling distraught and abandoned. Their shocking all-out brawl is a series highlight, where Nandor, acquiescing to Guillemero, turns to the camera and says, “That little fucker can really move when he wants to.” A lot more happens, including Colin’s death and bizarre rebirth, and we’re left with a litany of questions by the end. The fourth season can’t come soon enough.
Rating: 4/5 Stars