There is nothing on television as giddily silly and laugh-out-loud funny a FX’s What We Do in the Shadows. A US continuation of sorts of the 2014 film of the same name, the new series deftly demonstrates just how well the deceptively simple concept of a supernatural mockumentary translates to a weekly television series and the half-hour format. In fact, the relatively short runtime and episodic nature is arguably an improvement over the feature film (that’s not a slight against the movie, by any means), as it opens the door for even broader comedy and necessitates a greater exploration of the various new (but still familiar) characters who make up the ensemble cast.
The original film starred co-writer and director Taika Waititi and co-writer Jemaine Clement, and while their characters, Viago and Vladislav, don’t appear in the new series (yet), their fingerprints are all over the FX show. For one thing, Waititi directs the pilot from a script written by Clement, who then takes over directing duties on the next three episodes. As such, it’s safe to say the spirit of the original film is alive and well (or is that undead?) and whiling away an eternity on Staten Island.
Maybe the biggest concern about importing What We Do in the Shadows over to American television was the lack of Waititi and Clement in front of the camera. Thankfully, the two recognize that the concept is the real selling point of the show, and as long as there’re talented comedians yucking it up as inept bloodsuckers who’ve rejected modernity and failed to adapt to the present day in almost every way imaginable, the end product is going to be successful. To that end, then, the show’s producers (Waititi, Clement, and Scott Rudin among them) have assembled a phenomenal cast that includes Kayvan Novak (Four Lions) as Nandor the Relentless, Harvey Guillén (The Magicians) as Nandor’s familiar, Guillermo, Natasia Demetriou (Sick Note) as Nadjia, and the absurdly funny Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, Toast of London) as her husband Laszlo. But the series also throws in Mark Proksch (Better Call Saul) as Colin Robinson, an American “Energy Vampire” and “Daywalker” who essentially feeds off other people’s misery as he either bores or annoys them.
The series finds a great deal of its humor in watching the vampires interact with the otherwise normal people around them, but it’s also interested in showing the typically unproductive ways the characters interact with one another. Petty roommate squabbles are most often the order of the day, especially when Nandor calls for a house meeting (Colin’s not invited, for obvious reasons) to read a letter from an ancient vampire (played by Doug Jones) who’s coming to check on the housemate’s progress in enslaving the denizens of America and turning them into food for their would-be vampiric masters.
Needless to say, Nandor, Nadjia, and Laszlo have been rather derelict in their duties. This gives the overarching narrative of What We Do in the Shadows a framework, the slightest hint of a plot to connect the episodes and give the characters a purpose greater than going out at night and feeding off rude people in the park before transforming into a winged mammal by yelling “Bat!” and subsequently flying into a lamppost.
While the overarching narrative has to do with the various vampires attempting to make up for lost time in colonizing America, the series frequently zooms in on a micro level to peek into the personal lives of its characters. This is done partly through a series of interviews, which allow the characters to deliver expository dialogue without the pretense of making it seem like the sort of causal conversation roommates would have with and about one another. And besides, it’s so much funnier when Nandor explains the meaning behind the moniker of “Relentless” or when he complains about Guillermo’s constant presence when Guillermo is standing in the same room as him, just outside the camera’s field of vision. It’s also a chance for Novak, Demetriou, Berry, Guillén, and Proksch to mug a bit for the faux documentary crew, adding another layer of welcome silliness to the proceedings.
What We Do in the Shadows gets demonstrably funnier as the season progresses. The second episode features a group of vampires navigating public transit before attending a city council meeting — Colin’s prime feeding ground — and learning they’ve got a long way to go before achieving the goal they’ve were tasked with centuries before. The series also introduces Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) as a LARPer who is introduced to the vamps for reasons that are probably pretty obvious. But while some characters like Berry’s Laszlo or Guillén’s Guillermo tend to be scene stealers, the series works best when focused on the interplay of the ensemble.
That’s the likely the biggest takeaway from the original film, and the best evidence of Waititi and Clement’s continued contributions. And it all adds up to making What We Do in the Shadows one of, if not the funniest show on television at the moment.