FX’s ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Hilariously Explores the Hassles of Vampire Life
Everyone has roommates these days, even vampires. FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” takes a brilliant 2014 movie and transforms it into a reality TV series. The irony is that it’s total fiction, but it hilariously takes the aesthetic of reality TV to spin a yarn about the hassles of living among ancient bloodsuckers.
For the pilot we are introduced into this world by Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who is the “familiar” of a flashy vampire named Nandor (Kayvan Novak), which means he’s technically an assistant hoping to one day be turned into a vampire. Nandor shares a grand old house on Staten Island with three other fellow nightwalkers, Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), her flame since the 19th century Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Colin (Mark Proksch), who can walk in sunlight and doesn’t drain your blood, but instead your energy by engaging in mindless, boring conversations. Nandor himself was once a bloody warlord during the Ottoman Empire, now he spends his time with the others making sure the dungeon is clean and going out for walks to get late night dinner in the form of unsuspecting victims. Nadja is secretly stalking a bearded human who reminds her of a knight she had a wild affair with centuries ago. News arrives that a special visitor is coming, an ancient vampire master who expects them to spearhead a plan to conquer “The New World” (the U.S. basically). Of course, as Laszlo explains, that’s impossible considering America is pretty big. Nonetheless they prepare a reception complete with creepy paper, virgins to feast on and glitter, “like ‘Twilight.’”
This TV incarnation is so good precisely because the directors of the original, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, are at the helm. They keep the premise and style, while focusing now on new characters and expanding the scope of the storytelling. The movie was a fantastic gag, allowing a group of vampires to share their hopes, fears and quirks while going about night to night life. For the series the format is the same, but expanded. Clement and Waititi can’t get enough of poking around every myth, detail and superstition surrounding the idea of vampires and using them for pure hilarity. Guillermo must clean the house, dump the bodies and make sure not a trace of sunlight gets in. Why does he even want to become a vampire? Because as a kid he watched Antonio Banderas be “the first Hispanic vampire” in “Interview with the Vampire.” Nandor is of course the typical diva boss, asking for assurances that his rise from his coffin looks great, while confessing to the camera that he gets annoyed at how clingy Guillermo can get. When he is assigned to seek virgins for the reception of the old master, he knows just where to go, where LARP players hang out.
There are even little, subtle digs at our current political situation. In one scene Laszlo and Nadja go out for an even stroll in a park and someone yells, “go back to your country!” “We’ve been here since 1860,” replies Laszlo, before deciding to promptly eat the heckler. Other scenes surpass anything you’ll see with the Kardashians or “Shahs of the Sunset Strip,” like when Nandor goes shopping with Guillermo for glitter and other necessities, and tries to pay with an ancient coin. Even picking up the visiting master’s coffin at a dock is a hassle, since none of the vampires’ signatures will appear on the checkout pad.
Like the original movie, the cast in the series seem to be having the greatest time. Kayvan Novak basks in the vanity of being Nandor, while Natasia Demetriou channels every vampire seductress stereotype with satirical joy. When she corners her stalking obsession she tells him how she wants to make love like before, when she would climax after decapitating her lover. But the two scene stealers are surely Harvey Guillén as Guillermo, who is too pathetically eager to be turned, and Mark Proksch’s “energy vampire” Colin, a hilarious commentary on that person we all try to avoid at the office because they will trap you with their awkward, crushing small talk.
Lately the networks have been desperately searching for what hit movies can pass for television series. But “What We Do in the Shadows” works perfectly precisely because it began as a riff on the whole reality TV phenomenon. These roommates don’t have it any easier than anyone else, especially since they’ve lived for so long, remember many battles and lovers, and have a deadly craving. After so many reality TV shows about the rich and famous, here’s a much more entertaining time with the truly stylish who just happen to be immortal.
“What We Do in the Shadows” season one premieres March 27 and airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.