What We Do in the Shadows is a love story—the catch being that it’s between ancient vampires and a human minion who also happens to be a vampire slayer. It’s also set in Staten Island. And shot like a reality-TV series. And obsessed with supernatural creatures, over-the-top gore, and dirty sex. All of which makes it totally and hilariously absurd, and the best half-hour comedy on television.
Returning for its third season on Sept. 2, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is a spin-off of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 feature film of the same name. At this point, however, it’s carved out its own unique small-screen identity—not that its creators aren’t apt to still pop up now and again. Waititi briefly cameos in this year’s premiere, informing the undead quartet of Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch)—as well as their mortal slave (i.e. “familiar”) Guillermo (Harvey Guillén)—of their fate following last season’s climactic carnage, in which Guillermo revealed himself to be a bloodsucker-slaying descendant of Van Helsing and slaughtered most of the ruling vampiric council in order to save his housemates.
In an out-of-left-field twist, the foursome learns that instead of being fatally punished for their crime—which violates the cardinal rule that vampires must not kill fellow vampires—they’re being appointed the new leaders of the eastern seaboard’s vampiric council. Which is amusing precisely because it makes no sense.
Such is the ridiculousness of What We Do in the Shadows, which continues to balance the mundane and the outlandish to expert effect. Once again, the show’s true center is Guillermo, who in the opening episode is languishing in a dungeon cell while his vampire employers debate the pros and cons of killing him, now that he’s a potential threat to their safety. There’s no real danger of Guillermo going anywhere, of course, since Guillén is the glue that holds this nonsense together, his lackey a pudgy, lonely, insecure guy who desperately wants his selfish master Nandor to turn him into a vampire, and whose suppressed anger at being constantly slighted in that regard—and marginalized by his buffoonish employers, who can’t do anything without him, and yet treat him like dirt—has now manifested itself in lethal form.
Guillermo is both pitifully subservient and slyly in control, and he functions as the audience’s proxy, his knowing looks to the camera (à la Jim in The Office) marking him as the one character who isn’t wholly blinded by delusion. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of deception going on in the latest episodes of What We Do in the Shadows (four of which were provided to press), beginning with Guillermo, who it turns out is not actually a captive of Nandor and company; he’s been subtly sneaking out of his cage on a daily basis to handle the household chores that his pompous pals can’t, and won’t, perform. Once that ruse runs its course, Guillermo pretends to be hypnotized by the vampires, who want to make sure he won’t kill them while beginning his new job (a promotion!) as their bodyguard—which, as you might imagine, amounts to the same thing as being their familiar.
Nandor, Nadja and Laszlo are beset by misconceptions about their abilities and charm. That’s evident in a second episode involving a “cloak of duplication” that everyone uses to transform into Nandor so they can help him snag a date with a woman who works at his local gym, and in a fourth Atlantic City-set installment in which Nadja can’t tell the difference between the real Rat Pack (whom she used to be friends with) and the tribute act performing at a casino nightclub (the tip-off? Frank Sinatra is now Asian). Much of the humor of What We Do in the Shadows comes from the utter cluelessness of its vampire protagonists, whose problems largely stem from their dogged belief in themselves despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. The fact that they then manage to bumble their way through various predicaments is, thus, confirmation (to them) of their greatness, which merely begets additional chaos.
At least in its first four episodes, What We Do in the Shadows’ third season doesn’t boast a stellar stand-alone story like last year’s “On the Run,” which found Laszlo assuming the brilliant alias of “human bartender” Jackie Daytona. Moreover, it seems to reduce Laszlo to something of a second-fiddle player whose primary role is being the sex fiend who mostly talks about whacking off in a shed and engaging in outrageous carnal insanity. It’s not that Matt Berry isn’t great in these chapters so much as that the show appears to have rendered Laszlo a one-dimensional punchline, which seems like a mistake given that Berry’s conceited-beyond-belief doofus has often been the proceedings’ sharpest character.
The same can also be said, to a lesser degree, about Proksch’s Colin Robinson, whose fuller integration into the group has drained him (pun intended) of some of his dull-awkward-outsider appeal. With Proksch and Berry occupying more of the periphery, the series shines a greater spotlight on Novak and Demetriou, and both are ably up to the challenge, with Novak in particular eliciting considerable laughs from Nandor’s wholesale arrogant idiocy, be it him working out right in the face of a human gym member, or articulating his fondness for The Big Bang Theory—both the sitcom and, just as importantly, the licensed casino slot machine. Watching Nandor dance to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” (while wearing a Seger T-shirt and nothing else) is an early season highlight, and it—along with a related kickball game between vampires and werewolves—epitomizes the marriage of the ordinary and the out-of-this-world that makes the show such an inventive riot.
Even though Jackie Daytona won’t reemerge in Season 3, and there’s still no word yet if Mark Hamill will reprise his “Jim the Vampire,” What We Do in the Shadows no doubt has more surprises up its cloaked sleeve. Not that it needs recurring gimmicks or guest stars to thrive; with the funniest cast (and writers) on TV, its future—much to its darkness-loving characters’ chagrin—remains intensely bright.