In 2014, Kiwi co-directors/co-writer Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement released What We Do In The Shadows as a film. It proved to be a hilarious mockumentary about a group of vampires sharing a house in modern-day Wellington, New Zealand.
The film spun off two sitcoms, both co-created by Clement and Waititi. New Zealand’s Wellington Paranormal revolves around the good-natured cops from the film being recruited to an X-Files-like unit, and What We Do In The Shadows, which premiered last year on FX.
What We Do in the Shadows wasn’t begging for a television adaptation. However, its first season made a great case for the prospects of new antics, setting it in Staten Island, and showcasing that inherent silliness that the film was known for.
1. Quick Review
What We Do In The Shadows is about four vampires who live together in a big Gothic mansion on Staten Island.
That premise alone creates a hilarious combination of roommate politics, vampire logistics, and the hullaballoo of four individuals who’ve lived centuries without having learned all that much about the world.
Together, they’re a quadruple of immortal creatures who can’t do their own laundry, understand the bus system or the internet, or even manage to turn into a mysterious vapor without getting sucked into an air filter.
2. Is it worth watching?
The whole endeavor of both the film and the series was driven by a commitment to spoofing both the documentary format. There are shaky cameras, testimonials, the subjects’ hyper-awareness of their status as documentary subjects, and attempts to go clubbing being bamboozled by the funniest tropes of vampiric lore.
The four leads are great, the jokes crisp and fast and funny, and the FX series captures its original bone-dry tone. The series has figured out how to outfit its one-joke premise with enough different drivers of narrative momentum to keep viewers watching.
What’s most enjoyable about What We Do In The Shadows is that the series diverges from traditional sitcom rules. The vampire protagonists aren’t a bunch of weirdos trying desperately to learn how to fit in; they think they’re doing fine. When they run into trouble, hilarity ensues.
What We Do In The Shadows is exactly what you want a high-concept sitcom about Staten Island vampires to be: funny, fast, ingenious, and moronic in the best possible way.
The American series depicts the travails of vampires living together in a spooky old house, albeit now it’s on Staten Island.
There’s Nandor the Relentless (played by Kayvan Novak), a former soldier in the Ottoman Empire. His familiar is the lovable Guillermo (played by Harvey Guillén).
There’s English nobleman Laszlo (played by Matt Berry) and his wife/sire, Romani Nadja (played by Natasia Demetriou). Finally, there is Colin Robinson (played by Mark Proksch), a vampire who preys not on blood but on energy.
The plot proves to be secondary to the conflicts that arise when they try to co-exist. Everyone is faintly disgusted by everyone else. After all, they’ve been sharing a home for hundreds of years. Even the tiniest idiosyncrasies of their behavior feel magnified by the scrutiny forced by their close quarters.
Guillermo spends much of the season hoping his ignorant master would reward him with eternal life. However, at the end of the season, he discovers he’s a descendant of vampire hunter Van Helsing and might possess the same killer instincts.
The action really begins when aristocratic underworld don Baron Afanas (played by Doug Jones) from the Old World decides to pay them a visit, their humdrum co-existence is thrown into very mild and hysterical turmoil.
II. Music & Visuals
The music director of this series is Mark Allen Mothersbaugh. He is an American singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer. Mothersbaugh has made music for television series, films, and video games via his production company, Mutato Muzika.
In 2004, he received the Richard Kirk award at the BMI Film and TV Awards for his contributions to film and television music. In 2008, Mothersbaugh received an honorary doctorate from Kent State University, his alma mater.
The soundtrack of the series includes its opening theme; You’re Dead by Norma Tanega, Muzak For The Undead by Brian Horn, Romanian Polka by Hendric Heydregg, Vampire Dancoteque by Moniker, and Adieu by Stefan Witas.
The visual effects of the series are employed just as effectively as in the movie. They fold seamlessly into the handheld-camera aesthetic to seem all the more uncanny.
It doesn’t take long for something to happen that raises the stakes and propels the characters into the season with a sense of urgency. This is something the film, for all its qualities, never much bothered with.
3. Final Thoughts
What We Do In the Shadows is filled to the brim with gags, from Nandor getting stuck in his coffin escaping with a butter knife and Laszlo bemoaning the persecution of their kind, who never fails to slay a scene with a deadpan one-liner.
The series is a deftly dry comedy that has all the hallmarks of an alluring one. It is an especially good one in an age of bloated television, where comedies can seem overlong and self-indulgent. What We Do In the Shadows, precise and lean, and every scene earns its place.