Based on the 2014 movie of the same name, the FX network’s What We Do in the Shadows transfers Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s cult comedy to a new continent and a new medium, but remains just as dark, quirky, and hilarious.
The TV spinoff supposedly takes place in the same world as the movie, but features new (though similar) characters and moves the action from New Zealand to Staten Island, NY. Both Clement and Waititi serve as executive producers. Clement appears to have more direct involvement, while Waititi popped in to direct the pilot and maybe a couple other episodes.
As in the movie, the story follows a group of Old World (and decidedly old-school) vampires living as roommates in a dilapidated mansion and struggling to adapt to the modern age. They insist on dressing in ridiculous centuries-old attire and maintaining antiquated traditions as if they didn’t now live in the age of smartphones and social media.
The main characters in this version are Nandor (Kayvan Novak), who fancies himself the head of the household; the bickering couple Laszlo and Nadja (Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou); and Nandor’s human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who dotes on his master and works like a slave in the hopes of one day getting to become a vampire as well. In addition to adding a woman to the dynamic, perhaps the cleverest and funniest invention in this iteration is the fourth roommate, Colin (Mark Proksch), a so-called “energy vampire” – the worst and most evil form of monster – who looks and acts the most human but can sap all the life out of anyone in the room by boring them to death. (I’ve definitely worked with a few of these over the years.) All the other vampires despise Colin, because his powers work on them as well.
The series is shot in mockumentary style, and the characters even acknowledge the camera crew at one point. The main plot of the pilot episode sees the roommates anticipating the arrival of Baron Afanas (Doug Jones), an ancient nosferatu from the Old Country who expects them to have conquered the American continent by now. To prepare a welcoming celebration, Nandor heads to a party store to stock up on “creepy paper” (Guillermo repeatedly corrects him that it’s “crepe” paper) and orders his familiar to procure two human virgins as sacrifices – which Guillermo is able to do by infiltrating a local L.A.R.P. group. Unfortunately, Colin ruins the feast by getting to the virgins first and draining all their energy.
Meanwhile, Nadja stalks a human man (Jake McDorman from the Murphy Brown reboot) that she’s convinced is a reincarnation of her former lover, Gregor. She winces when he tells her that his name is “Jeff.” That’s nowhere near as sexy.
Episode Verdict / Grade: A-
The What We Do in the Shadows movie was a brilliant mix of deadpan humor and over-the-top gore. The TV version strikes nearly the same balance, with perhaps just a touch less blood-spilling (at least so far). The best and most sympathetic character is Guillermo the familiar, whose obsession with becoming an undead monster stems from his love for Antonio Banderas in the movie Interview with the Vampire.
The show is really funny. I look forward to watching more of it.