This What We Do in The Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 Episode 1
Whatuuuup?!? The vampires of What We Do in the Shadows are back, and if it seems like they’ve never left, it is by lazy design. The Staten Island bloodsucking contingent ended season 3 scattered to the four corners of the globe enroute to undeath-changing adventures, and, largely unfulfilled, returned home where it is much cheaper to film.
It appears the producers spared no expense on deconstructing the sets, however. The first major change of season 4 is the Staten Island mansion, which was opulent, refined, and brimming with old world class and sociopathic charm. The decay of the mansion is an epic travesty of the original set. It is an open wound, effectively festering in the audience’s mind as spoof-mythology. The vampires’ safe place is now a treacherously amusing minefield of menace, mayhem, and mirth. Running gags about tracking faulty pipes with a sledgehammer, or using a candle to light the way out of a gas leak, lead to satisfyingly unexpected punch and plot lines.
The vampires spent the off-season much as we imagined: behaving not much differently except for the unseen locales. During his travels, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) made a pit stop to his homeland, Al Quolanudar, only to find the entire place has been overrun with vampires. He learns it is not so special to be a vampire when everyone else around you is also a vampire. This encapsulates What We Do in the Shadows’ vampire worldview, which is egocentric, arrogant, vain, gleefully clueless, and recklessly endangering.
Nandor’s bodyguard and former familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), was supposed to accompany him on his trip around the world, but wound up carted off with Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), who was appointed to the International Vampiric Council. Nadja is the most competent vampire in the group, and the most prone to sudden violence. They go together. She lives by her whims, and now enforces her will through a new superpower, a mighty voice which crowds out all thought with vampire hypnosis. It is sonically and visually a more effective humor delivery system, but runs the long-term risk of a bad echo effect.
We get a general bats’ eye view of the vampires’ year-long separate adventures, but details generally come on a joke-dependent basis. The bulk of the focus is on the most interesting story of all. Laszlo (Matt Berry) has been raising the creature which crawled out of the chest cavity of dead Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), and is trying to avoid the unnatural mistakes which led to the condition of his former life. The explanatory season opener takes on the question of nature versus nurture, as Laszlo tries raising Baby Colin to be anything other than an energy-draining bore.
Can Baby Colin grow up to be an actual interesting human being? The montage of the young psychic vampire’s tutelage is clever. Laszlo’s scholastic visual aids, enthusiastically enforced by electroshock therapy, usurp stereotypically banal daily interests — like the Downtown Des Moines, Iowa Event Center or “I Hate Mondays” coffee mugs –- for class, culture, and swordplay. Each lesson is an education in sight gags.
The human TV audience can identify with the inhuman stars of What We Do in the Shadows as something akin to the medium’s lovable losers, but only to a certain point. The series’ most effective humor comes from the absurdity of immortal creatures so eternally out of touch. They’re not only confounded with modern society, technology, and contemporary slang, which can be forgiven as a trope that goes back even further than Dracula: Dead and Loving It. But their power of willful short-term memory loss far exceeds mortal comprehension. When Nadja consistently mistakes Baby Colin for the home’s newly-infesting racoons, it is hard to tell whether she truly can’t distinguish between the two, doesn’t bother to try, or wants the world to believe she’s above all that.
The trait resounds in all the vampires. When Laszlo doesn’t remember who Guillermo is, no matter how many times Nandor repeats the name, the audience can’t tell if he is as clueless as he most definitely seems, or if he can’t risk being viewed as caring. It’s funnier because Laszlo’s character is firmly established to run on the rails of a one-track mind. This is especially apparent in the reunion scene, which Laszlo owns. Matt Berry thrusts wanton desire into every physical motion he makes.
The best special effect of the episode is actually the simplest. Nandor’s plunge to save Guillermo from a fate worse than bad plumbing is extraordinarily effective and unexpected. And the scene where Nandor asks Guillermo to be the Best Man at his wedding is oddly moving, until the small print is spelled out. Their relationship is growing, and it appears to take a big step forward.
What We Do in The Shadows is not afraid to change things up. The modern-day New York vampire mockumentary premise has not grown old, and the show balances familiar favorites with fresh twists, laughs, and quotable moments. Written by Stefani Robinson and Paul Simms, and directed by Yana Gorskaya, “Reunion” is a welcome return. The jokes and action move at a fast pace, and surreal absurdity abounds. The password sequence may be classic TV comedy material, but it is definitely an early clue to a new distraction.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 Episode 2
“The Lamp” opens in the aftermath of Nadja’s (Natasia Demetriou) big decision to open a vampire nightclub. The International Vampiric Council shot it down when she brought it up during her tenure there, and the local Vampiric Council is also reluctant. While it seems a stereotypical move for a newly empowered vampire, it is one Nadja commits to, because when she was embraced into the undeath of the vampire, she embraced all the stereotypes which came along with it.
It’s all well and good to live forever, if you learn anything, but the vampires on Staten Island are emotionally stuck in their final human age. Nadja is the most ruthless of the characters now, but was the Twilight-esque teen vampire of her generation in the small Greek village she was born, died, and un-died. Of course she wants to open a vampire nightclub, with blood sprinklers and goth DJs engorged with blood, and other blood-related gadgets, toys, lights, and entertainment. It is also exactly the kind of cliché What We Do in the Shadows needs, if only to get it out of their system. We can only hope for a beautiful disaster.
The vampire nightclub Fangtasia was a smash in the small Louisiana town it served on HBO’s True Blood, and Manhattan’s after-hours, underground, watering hole ran afoul Laszlo’s cursed hat. The Staten Island mansion is in dire need of repair, so opening the hottest vampire nightclub in the Tri-State Area to pay for it is a no-brainer, and if any show knows how to move its action mindlessly forward, it is What We Do in the Shadows.
The construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction gags, during the early attempts to turn the Chamber of Curiosities into a vampire nightclub, border on Looney Tunes brilliance in their cartoonish execution. The Roadrunner would never have been able to outpace the Wraiths. The Guide (Kristen Schaal) is a complex tapestry of obsessive excesses, further animating the proceedings. When Nadja employs social threats, like bringing up the International Council’s aptly named Liquidator of Underlings, the proceedings subtly veer into workplace sitcom territory.
It is vaguely surprising how quick Laszlo (Matt Berry) is to help with the transformation of the Council headquarters. After all, he turned down a seat because he “didn’t become a vampire to become a pen-pushing bureaucrat. I became a vampire to suck blood and to fuck forever.” This is why we readily accept that Laszlo spent time with Dr. Sigmund Freud at the dawn of the psychotherapy. The show’s reality works because of its growing absurdity.
The photos recreating Laszlo and Freud’s time together, like all of the age-ravaged visual evidence, are expertly created, and supremely effective visual comic aids. They render any cast member into the Zelig of any time. It was the sight of Laszlo’s rather generous “John Thomas” which changed Freud’s theory of hand envy to penis envy. The sessions between Laszlo and the Guide have all the makings of classic TV bits, too. He dismisses all non-sexual repressions as stemming from, what Freud would term, female hysteria, because he needs to find something erotic at the heart of it. His entire character demands it. The Guide would have us believe her entire subconscious consists of boxes containing smaller boxes, but once Laszlo bangs on her door of shame, bedlam flows freely.
Like the black and white photographs of Laszlo and Dr. Freud, the artistic renderings of the Guide’s past as a wanton, reckless undead libertine are the essence of the graphic satirical artform. Each visual mixes tasteful brush strokes with tasteless imagery masterfully invoking centuries of taboo indulgences. This is the breakthrough Laszlo is looking for, because it is the same outcome he is always looking for, sex and the promise of more sex, hopefully with especially unique couplings. The forbidden love the Guide feels is a manifestation of her former life as a naughty vampire. We would expect Laszlo to be thrilled with the outcome, but he rejects the obvious conclusions.
In the lore of What We Do in the Shadows, Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén) is a descendant of the famous vampire slayer of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dr. Van Helsing. Guillermo and the Guide have been sparring in a mockery of the will-they-won’t-they-style tensions of Mulder and Scully on The X-Files, and tonight’s final showdown reinforces the running gag, while keeping its motor running.
It seems Guillermo is beginning to realize the power he has, and the scene where he grabs the nightclub accountancy position twists suspicion and overwrought paranoia into a comic fine point where the punch line deflates hysterically on contact. In the first episode, Guillermo said he was finally going to be looking out for number one, but tonight’s breakthrough-breakdown comes over the welfare of the child, Baby Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). The young energy vampire doesn’t appear much during the episode. His main scene involves a love of hammering walls, which turns out to be an inadvertent metaphor for Guillermo’s most pressing problems: Not enough blood sprinklers and too many wives.
The title of the episode refers to the main event of the installment, finding a suitable bride for an ancient warrior vampire. Nandor’s (Kayvan Novak) relentless search for love is as frustrating as locating the perfect wedding dowry offering in his secret room of treasures smuggled back from to his homeland, Al Quolanudar. “We live in a time of miracles,” he bemoans reverently, while tossing back a rare bejeweled spoon, rendered obsolete in an era of plentiful utensils.
Nandor had plentiful and beautiful wives when he was a mighty warlord, however. He had 37 wives, woman-wives and man-wives, which should not be surprising, but is given a passing glance by Guillermo. Nandor’s attempt to recreate the lobster scene from Annie Hall is fraught with pithy peril. Just when you think it’s over, it crashes into an even funnier conclusion.
Nandor’s entire approach to dating is outdated. Luckily, genies have no expiration dates. The Djinn (Anoop Desai) is a genius guest characterization. Basically an accountant who keeps impeccable notes, we see none of the dangers of overdrawing his wish list. Even with the added wish-granting inflation quota, they are still finite, and the Djinn appears a merciless broker. We don’t even know what the penalty for using them all up is. If the show were true to the sitcom-Djinn mythology from I Dream of Jeannie, once his 52 accumulated wishes are used up, Nandor should be measured for lamp living instead of a wedding cloak.
While it is unlikely What We Do in the Shadows will follow the djinn arc further, this outcome may be to Nandor’s benefit. His ultimate matrimonial choice as fiancée, Marwa, mentions her interest in science and mathematics, and observations about Jupiter and Saturn. For a guy who only just learned the universe doesn’t sit on the back of a giant elephant, this does not bode well for future wedded bliss. Written by Wally Baram and Aasia LaShay Bullock, and directed by Yana Gorskaya, “The Lamp” fulfills comic wishes faster than a djinn can click them off his ledger.