May 19, 2020

“What We Do in the Shadows” Season One Review: Vamps on the Town

In my viewing experience, television series adapted from films have had a high success rate. Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance honor their source material and are all thoroughly enjoyable on their own. However, they’re all adapted from relatively high-profile films and stories; what about the series based on smaller movies? Are they less enjoyable because their parent films aren’t as well-known?

The answer to that is a resounding “No!” One of my favorite shows to come out in recent years has been “What We Do in the Shadows,” a half-hour comedy that follows a group of vampires that live on Staten Island in the modern day. It’s based on a film of the same name, which was co-directed by Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords). The film, set in New Zealand, is hilarious on its own, but the spin-off TV series is clearly having a lot of fun expanding the lore and building upon the world established by the film, being one where vampires live together in homes around the world.

The main cast of vampires are similar to the ones from the film, but they have their own quirks and silly accents to distinguish them from their kiwi counterparts. There’s Nandor (Kayvan Novak), a former warlord who regards himself as the group’s leader; Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), who is consistently searching for her reincarnated human lover; Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja’s husband who enjoys music and creating topiary sculptures of the female anatomy; and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch, at the top of his comedic game), an energy vampire who drains humans by boring or depressing them. It’s one of the cleverest ideas on the show, and in a series full of highly creative elements, that’s high praise.

And then there’s Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor’s familiar — essentially a human that serves a vampire in the hopes of being eventually turned into a bloodsucker themselves — who has served the vampire for ten years without being granted the “gift” of eternal life. I wouldn't go so far as to label Guillermo as the show's emotional core, but he's certainly the most relatable lead character — enhanced by Guillén’s hysterically deadpan performance.

The vampires are wildly unpredictable, and that certainly adds to the show’s fun.
It’s ridiculous, to be sure, but at the same time, it’s extremely entertaining. Every episode plops the vampires into unfamiliar, inventive situations that, per sitcom rules, always take a turn for the worse (with farcical results). Sure, the schtick of the vampires discovering modern slang or contemporary technology does get a bit old sometimes, but the show manages to constantly put a refreshing spin on it enough to keep the spirit fresh.

Adding to the show’s silliness are a host of high-profile guest stars, including Tilda Swinton, Danny Trejo and Wesley Snipes. There’s just something about seeing these movie stars playing against type and portraying these crazily laughable that increases the enjoyment factor enormously.

The premise may be stretched thin at times, but I can confidently say that What We Do in the Shadows is an absurd, side-splitting good time that’s sure to give you a much-needed chuckle. [Grade: A+]

Showrunner: Paul Simms
Starring: Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Matt Berry, Mark Proksch, Harvey Guillén
Rated: TV-MA (gore, sex, language)
Available: Hulu
Fun Fact: Tom (Cruise) and Brad (Pitt) are mentioned as Vampire Council members who weren’t available for the trial in episode 7. They played Lestat and Louis in Interview with a Vampire.

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