Some shows possess that uncanny ability to put you under their spell. Tuning in any day, any time, to any episode, scene, or even for one of the exquisitely delivered lines of dialogue can make you helpless to its charms. What We Do In the Shadow is one such show, just a taste leaves me enchanted, struggling to stop watching. The FX series is entering its hilarious and zealous fifth season, the series retains its unique comedic blend of high concept comedy mixed with low brow – risque humor, satire, puns, razor sharp wordplay, cartoon gore, and physical comedy that makes it one of the funniest shows on television.
Still, when I try to introduce it to potential new fans it is not always love at first bite. A mockumentary about a group of vampires living in modern day Staten Island, what’s not to love? It may be that some of the qualities I find so alluring as a long time fan can also make the series intimidating. The lore and callbacks can make jumping in mid-series is a challenge to say the least. The characters are richly written and all possess backstories and mythology that has developed and is passed along from previous seasons.
Season 4 took viewers in some wildly original directions: Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) opened vampire nightclub, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) was on on a not-so-typical pursuit of a wife, and of course, Mark Proksch’s hysterical transformation (thanks to some crafty CGI) back from baby to adulthood Colin Robinson, while Laszlo (Matt Berry) takes on the role of his mentor/manager for the young energy vampire. All the Staten Island housemates’ storylines came to satisfying conclusions as the season wraps – all besides one that is. Guillermo’s (Harvey Guillén) continued longing to join vampire-hood is business as usual – a fruitless pursuit.
The new season hits the ground running, expanding the scope of terrain covered in some unexpected ways starting with a visit to a place called the mall (the pronunciations of ‘the mall’ alone provides a good laugh). It is just one of several adventures the group takes which extend well beyond the walls of the mansion to the unexplored and exotic settings of the mysterious Staten Island delivering back to back to back comedy bits.
Watching Laszlo misconstrue every single storefront is worth the price of admission alone. (i.e. “That’s the ‘Baby Village”, makes sense to keep them all in one place.”) We are also taken to stroll down Nadja’s heritage in Little Antipaxos, are on the floor for televised political debates, the beach, and even outer space. As they boldy go where no vampire has gone before we watch them misunderstand and often stumble through modern human world situations. The more they try to fit in the more they fail miserably with uproarious results.
After the big comic swings of last season, this season provides a welcome hint of familiarity exploring the dynamics of the different relationships between the characters while each travels their own journey. This in on full display as we watch yet another physical transformation take place. Last season it was Colin’s metamorphosis from creepy adult-faced infant to teenager to adult, this time around it’s Guillermo’s turn.
After waiting years for the oblivious Nandor to transform him into a vampire, the loveable familiar takes the task into his own hands having his friend and convenience store worker, Derek (Chris Sandiford) bite him. All’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast, as this season kicks off we learn that the process does not go off without a hitch (of course) or two, leaving Gizmo stuck somewhere between human and vampire – including some itty-bitty wings.
To make matters exponentially worse, a light conversation becomes deadly serious when Guillmero proposes the ‘hypothetical’ idea of being turned by a random vampire. Nandor warns there is no greater humiliation and if that were to happen he would kill Guillermo and then himself. Information that would have been helpful to have a little earlier. This of course ends up being a running plotline throughout all episodes, one that not only affects several members of the household, and is another source of big laughs
Once Laszlo learns of Gizmo’s secret he takes a ‘scientific’ approach to get to the bottom of the predicament, conducting a series of experiments on him each funnier than the previous. All of this is kept away from Nandor who becomes growingly jealous of the new bond between the two, even if Lazslo claims he’s, “Teaching the boy science.” Tensions between Nandor and Laszlo are already elevated as they butt heads overs whose approach to getting out of tough situations is more effective, Laszlo’s smooth-talking charm or Nandor’s hypnotize the lot of them approach. Like just about every aspect of this series, you have to be there to get the most out of it.
In the four screeners episodes I was given access to there are numerous you-had-to-be-there moments that prove the writing remains some of the best in the industry this season. By creating friction between the housemates, putting them in new environments, and exploring each of them closer, the series mines more comedy gold while expanding the mythology.
While Guillermo remains our (partially) human guide through it all, each character has their own journey to follow even if they never really change: Laszlo is working to correct Gizmo’s situation or at least use it to his advantage. Colin takes on employment at a restaurant feeding off the clientele while feeding them as a waiter who makes the dining experience as draining as possible and also dips in the ultimate energy draining profession, politics. Nadja is searching for a way to remove a hex cast on her while also dealing with her irate mini-me doll whose legs she crushed. As for Nandor, after years of neglect, he may just be starting to value Guillermo. In one way or another, through the comedy of it all, all of them are looking for their place in this world.
With each season WWDITS has a welcome list of guest stars and returning characters. The dim bulb neighbor Sean (Anthony Atamanuik) is back and proves to be just about as Staten Island as can be in an increased role that delivers lots of laughs. Also back is The Guide (Kristen Schaal) who just wants to be seen as part of the household or even just a friend, though she remains to be more or less an afterthought to the self centered undead. There also a return of Evie Russell (Vanessa Bayer) who never disappoints to inject lots of laughs by draining emotions.
Every episode is packed with an outrageous amount of creativity and comedy from beginning to end, delivered by one of the most talented and funniest ensembles on television. Not only is there not a weak link in the bunch, they all bring something unique to this mix of absurdity. Honestly, I could watch full episodes of these characters with their witty banter, bickering, entertaining stories and insults.
It does not matter when, where or what the subject matter, just about every single line of dialogue delivers comic gold, be it through clever wordplay, Laszlo’s extravagant over-pronunciations (he really nails Kim Cattrall), some physical comedy, or one of Guillermo’s irritated reaction shots. The series never nor comedy becomes complacent, always evolving and aiming for the moon in the hunt for laughs.
Sure, What We Do in the Shadows can be ridiculous at times (and I eat it up) but showrunner Paul Simms never struggles to find humor in the more unlikely of places. Equally impressive is that after five seasons of comedy at the volume it is delivered how feels fresh it often feels. The writers endlessly deliver some of the smartest comedy line after line, and sometimes between them. There’s something in it for everyone. By putting our vampire friends in new, seemingly random situations from episode to episode there it looks like we could have many more seasons ahead.
Viewers are treated to a meeting of the Council of Energy Vampires which almost drained me through my TV, the funniest yogurt joke I think I have ever heard (as simple as it was, it had me laughing out loud), Nandor takes flight (literally), a cringeworthy Build-A-Bear experience unlike any I’ve ever witnessed, an unexpected circumcision in the name of friendship, a Pride parade run by some of the least likely of organizers and much more… all this in the first four episodes.
While your standard, less ambitious sitcoms are easy to consume and can be enjoyable, they rarely are as rewarding as WWDITS when you are in on the joke. That’s why I always recommend new viewers watch from the start of the because the more familiar you are with the world building, the better. Every joke and callback lands better when you have the luxury of having watched all before it. By the way, I am happy to say that every person I convinced to do so quickly transformed into fans of the show. Suck-cess.
With every passing season What We Do In the Shadows proves to be one of the best comedies on television. Even with the high bar, season five has a very strong start. Each episode is fleshed out with well-crafted characters, outrageous situations and some incredibly clever writing. Every time you think you have seen it all, the show surprises, creating new awkward fish-out-of-water moments for us to enjoy. This fifth year vampire series never grows old. I’d even say What We Do In the Shadows still has plenty of life left in it.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Thursdays on FX and then the next day on Hulu.