The show is great except for that episode, and yes, we are right
A few weeks ago, I looked up from my phone, where I’d been obsessively tracking Coronavirus death statistics ever since the government herded me into quarantine. The TV was telling me that, while I cowered in fear, a new season of What We Do In The Shadows, a sitcom about wacky vampires, had appeared. The first season of What We Do In The Shadows was one of my favorite seasons of TV comedy ever. The second season had been unfurling for weeks. I didn’t even know, and I edit a pop-culture website. That’s how awash in the deathnews I’d been. Thank the TV gods for fresh distractions.
I watched the first five episodes in two days, and am now completely caught up with What We Do In The Shadows. The second season has more than fulfilled the promise of the first. That season’s main character was Nandor, kind of an off-brand moronic Vlad The Impaler. In the final episode of season 1, the show pulled a brilliant twist, revealing that Guillermo, Nandor’s milquetoast human familiar, is actually a descendant of the Van Helsing family. That makes him, genetically, a highly-effective vampire killer, which is why he keeps killing vampires.
Season 2 yields the gold from that plot twist. Guillermo has basically become the show’s lead. In season 1, he desperately wanted to become a vampire. Now he struggles with his true nature, and the knowledge that, at any moment, he could kill his master just by flicking a stake the wrong way or inadvertently opening a door at daybreak. Harvey Guillén, the actor who plays Guillermo, looks ready to snap at any moment. His struggle is both hilarious and endlessly tense.
In addition, Season 2 has focused plenty of extra attention on Colin Robinson, the “energy vampire” who can go out in the daytime. He feeds by engaging humans in endlessly tedious conversation. The season’s fourth episode revolves almost entirely around Colin Robinson, who gets a promotion at the office, threatening to turn him into the most powerful being in the world. Colin Robinson’s monstrous vampire roommates no longer have any power over him. It’s one of the wackiest and most inventive half-hours of TV of all time, like an episode of The Office running right up against Rick and Morty, crossed with Dark Shadows.
Another plot highlight comes in episode 7, when Colin Robinson, while attempting to suck dry people’s energy on Twitter, encounters an Internet troll who challenges him. When he travels to Massachusetts to take his revenge on the troll, he finds out that it’s an actual troll. It’s an obvious joke, but it makes total sense.
Then there’s the ghost episode, where Nadia conducts a séance, and the ghosts of all the vampires appear because they have “unfinished business.” Lazlo’s unfinished business is literally masturbation. And Nadia and her ghost become such good friends that her ghost ends up inhabiting a creepy doll, who becomes a regular character on the show. “God, this is stupid,” said my wife, as she sat next to me.
It is stupid, and also great.
But nothing tops the season’s third episode, when Nandor checks his email for the first time in more than a decade. He has two messages. One is an invitation to a 2009 screening of The Blind Side. The other is a chain mail “curse” letter from Bloody Mary. Because Nandor is a fool, he believes that he’s actually cursed. The entire episode revolves around Nandor and the other vampires shrieking around the house, trying to remove the curse. It’s the funniest half-hour of TV this season.
Which is what makes Episode 6 so bizarre. The libertine vampire idiot Laszlo, played by the always-hilarious Matt Berry, receives a visit from another vampire, played by Mark Hamill. The Mark Hamill vampire has a vendetta against Laszlo because of some unpaid bill at a hotel in San Diego decades before. To escape fighting with Mark Hamill, Laszlo flees the vampire house in Staten Island.
He re-emerges in Pennsylvania, disguised as a “normal human bartender” named Jackie Daytona. No one can tell he’s a vampire because he chews on a toothpick and wears a funny hat. There’s a ridiculous subplot about a girl’s high-school volleyball team.
Whereas the humor on What We Do In The Shadows tends to effortlessly flow from the show’s ludicrous premise, everything about the Jackie Daytona episode feels like “comedy writing”. There’s definitely an undercurrent of comedy-cool-kid-ism to What We Do In The Shadows. This season’s guest stars include Craig Robinson and a returning Nick Kroll, who probably didn’t need a very rigorous audition process to get their gigs. But at least their bits don’t feel like a late-episode Saturday Night Live Sketch.
Making fun of Staten Island may be fish in a barrel, but those are at least the mooks sitcom writers know. By moving the action to Pennsylvania, the show suddenly becomes a cartoon. And that’s saying a lot given that the set piece of the episode involves two powerful vampires destroying a neighborhood bar. The jokes feel fake and condescending, and Jackie Daytona isn’t nearly as funny as Laszlo himself.
Then again, other people seem to love Jackie Daytona. Maybe I’m overthinking it. I just know that I was glad when the action returned to Staten Island and we didn’t have to deal with Jackie anymore. The next episode involved Laszlo and Nick Kroll fighting, yet again, over a cursed hat made out of a witch’s butthole.
Now that’s the What We Do In The Shadows I want to see.