What We Do in the Shadows is the follow-up (one of three; one is the series Wellington Paranormal, and the other is a potential film on werewolves) based on the film of the same name from 2014. The show has a great many similarities to the original film, down to the same central conceit: vampires and other supernatural creatures are real and live among us.
This series steps away from New Zealand and the roommates from the movie. Instead, we find ourselves in Staten Island, New York, with a new group of vampires. Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Lazlo (Matt Berry), Nadya (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). Also living with them is Nandor’s familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén).
Despite the new surroundings and characters, the series feels very familiar having borrowed heavily from the aesthetics and comedy of the film. This is not surprising, however, given that Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi are deeply involved with the show.
You can catch the second season, which just recently started airing, on FX.
“Pilot” – S1E1
The pilot is very much in-line with what needs to be accomplished in a pilot episode. We get a strong introduction to the different characters, relationships, and a hint at some of the upcoming conflicts. The most important thing, however, is that the pilot needs to establish the comedic sense right away. “Pilot” handles it quite well, anchored by a strong ensemble, a brilliant creative team, and some great little twists and jokes at the expense of the vampire.
Particular standouts in the cast are Harvey Guillén as Guillermo and Natasia Demetriou as Nadja in the first episode, though everyone has a moment to shine. Guillermo’s perpetual doormat of a character is frustratingly hilarious and his moments of being the conscientious caretaker of the vampires are great. Nadja’s character as the only woman in the core cast can be a thankless archetype in less talented hands. Thankfully the show found a great actress in Nastasia Demetriou. I want to emphasize here, again, that the whole ensemble is fabulous and has strong chemistry.
The core story that runs through the episode involves the preparation for the visitation of an ancient, powerful vampiric Baron, played by Doug Jones in full Nosfertau-mode. The episode is absolutely filled with different jokes building on various vampiric representations. Among which is the humor built around vampire sexuality, feeding, and aesthetics are absolutely killer. Particularly with the appearance of the LARPers.
The brilliance of the 2014 film What We Do in the Shadows carries over to the pilot episode for the series. What you loved about the film by Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement translates incredibly well into a 30 minute episode.(5 / 5)
“City Council” – S1E2
The vampires are given a mission at the end of the pilot episode, and the (relative) enormity of the task is a smart choice to kick the rest of the season into gear. The show is up to the task following the pilot and is still largely hilarious. Needing to conquer the “new world” or “America” (it is a little unclear due to certain… communication issues from the Baron) the vampires set their sights on Staten Island.
The episode is very much an ensemble piece but Nadja has a very interesting arc with her siring a new vampire. Her simultaneously abusive, manipulative, and ultimately encouraging interactions with the LARPER Jenna, played by Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart) are hilarious. The presence of another vampire should pay off tremendously regarding Guillermo and his desire to become a vampire himself.
In two episodes it is hard to really give everyone the credit they deserve. Matt Berry’s Lazlo is consistently hilarious and has one of the funniest ongoing gags in the series (BAT!!). The inherent ridiculousness of Lazlo leads to some solid laughs in every episode. The episode uses him well in the scheme to deal with the city council and has Nandor’s own manipulations run counter to one another in suitably sitcom-fashion. Plus, you get a scene of a vampire luring raccoons.
As for Mark Proksch’s Colin Robinson, never the singular Colin, his character runs the risk of being one-note. Thankfully the series quickly utilizes him as an antagonistic figure rather than just a one-note annoyance. He is very much a manipulator and that should be fun to watch throughout the season. His feeding moment at the end of the episode is one for the ages.
An overall solid episode and a strong follow-up to the pilot. It’s pretty funny to watch the vampires deal with contemporary American culture and the local government. The biggest weakness from the episode comes from the fairly stock story of two figures (Lazlo and Nandor) working against each other toward the same end. But the end results of a pile of dead raccoons and a crazed councilman make up for the stock episode structure.(4.5 / 5)
Check back next week for a review of the next two episodes of What We Do in the Shadows.