Intro: Pardon the pun but Vampires in pop culture seem to be having a bit of a resurrection in the recent years, either with shows like Netflix’s “Dracula” and “The Strain,” video games like “Vampyr” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2”, and of course movies like the original “What We Do in the Shadows” from 2014. This review will be looking at the second spin-off show in the “What We Do in the Shadows” franchise (the first being “Wellington Paranormal”) which premiered March 27, 2019, on FX.
Premise: The show is a mockumentary centered around the daily lives of five main characters living in Staten Island, New York. Three are traditional vampires named Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), who was a former king of the fictional country of Al Quolanudar, located in southern Iran, and a soldier of the Ottoman Empire; Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), a former Greek peasant woman and the one who turned vampire number three Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), who is an English Nobleman into a vampire and remained to married him centuries later. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is an Energy Vampire, meaning he gains substance by boring or irritating his victims, including other vampires such in the main cast. The fifth and final main character is Guillermo De La Cruz (Harvey Guillen), Nandor’s human familiar for over ten years who has the hopes of becoming a vampire himself one day. The show follows the daily (undead) lives and antics of these characters within both human and vampire societies.
Writing: If you’ve seen shows like “The Office” or the original movie, then you know how the plot and jokes are written; a camera crew follows the main characters around, characters can pull away to give mini interviews reflecting what they think of the current situation, with footage of anything the camera crew couldn’t record spliced in as needed (such as when Laszlo gets imprisoned in an animal shelter as a bat and they use the security camera footage). The camera crew themselves are an active presence in the show, with other characters acknowledging and pointing them out the same way any person would ask “why do you have a camera crew here for our secret vampire meeting?!”
As for the dialogue and jokes themselves, a good portion of them are pop culture references, current social/historical commentary, culture shock from the vampires having to deal with things such computers and city council as well as jokes and gags about (fictional) vampire lore and other supernatural subjects like curses, ghosts and werewolves. A lot of the time, the show/characters will attempt to explain the background information in the relevant context, such as the bi-annual vampire orgies or the characters’ own backstories using photos or works of art to depict them.
One thing I should mention is that a lot of jokes that seem like throwaway gags are also foreshadowing plot points or character traits. In the first episode for instance, Nandor states that Colin Robinson’s ability to capture energy is “growing stronger by the day” and throughout the show you see Colin developing new methods of draining energy and overall being more active and assertive than in his initial appearance. Keep a lookout when watching and it’s fun to rewatch the show from the beginning to see what jokes got built upon and have new context in hindsight.
That being said there are also some jokes that seem to contradict past events, such as in Episode 7, when Laszlo admits to being Jack the Ripper, meaning that he (& Nadja) were still in Europe before the 1890s. Meanwhile, in the next episode, Nandor claims to have had an affair with George Washington when he was President, meaning he would have already been in the New world by 1797.
Acting/Casting: For the most part, the casting was pretty spot on, the actors do a good job portraying their roles to the best of their abilities, with a good ratio of campy characters in the three main vampires alongside more tame, straight characters like Colin Robinson and Guillermo which allows the characters to feed off each other’s energy. The clothing has a mix of historical period piece clothes for vampire “formal wear” and 21st century attire, which points out how ridiculous and out of touch the main trio of vampires are with society on certain trends. A good rule of thumb I’d say for this show is “if you can recognize the actor, they’ll be an important gag or a reoccurring character for more than one episode.”
Music/Sound: The show mostly relies on what occurs within the scene itself, although there are certain instances of musical cues and licensed songs playing in the background, likely to be explained away as being done in post production by the in-show recording crew as it does acknowledge that if something happens to one of them, like being assaulted, then the audio will be affected in the show. The opening credits is played off with the song “You’re Dead” by Norma Tanega and the ending credits have a different song that plays right beforehand and through the whole sequence, and to be honest, it’s become a highlight of mine. I think my favorite songs in the show are “No Vampires Remain in Romania” by King Luan and “Holy Water” by Struggle Jennings.
Conclusion: As I stated in my opening paragraph, vampires seem to be in the midst of a pop culture rebirth and this show is a sign of potential good things to come. FX has had a lot of very memorable shows such as “Atlanta”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, “Legion”, and “Sons of Anarchy” to list a few, and “What We Do in the Shadows” has a strong start with its first season on being on a contender to join these shows as the network’s best.
It will get you more interested in vampires and other horrible creatures of the night in a modern setting in a similar way to how season one of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” on HBO did with Greek mythology. Let’s just hope that Season 2 of “What We Do in the Shadows” doesn’t slip up and fall on a wooden stake.