‘What We Do In The Shadows’ Still Has Plenty of Bite

Season 5 furthers its reputation as TV’s best sitcom

It seems unlikely that a show about international vampires attempting to rule over Staten Island would be TV’s best sitcom by several miles, but ‘What We Do In The Shadows‘ has the magic formula of a brilliant cast who are perfect for their roles, a great writing staff, and total control over its vibe. The show never wavers from its wacky point of view. It seems almost impossible that what started as a New Zealand gimmick movie is now more than 50 episodes deep, but here we are.

Season 5 doesn’t have the high points of “Nandor joins a cult” or “Guillermo goes ham on a vampiric council gathering,” but it still provides a steady diet of hilarious vampire humor, fart jokes, and even the occasional exciting action sequence. And lest we forget that this is a show about monsters, there are occasional disgusting bloodbaths or moments of actual body horror that are kind of jarring, even a little scary. Those moments give What We Do In The Shadows a little more genre depth and resonance than a traditional relationship sitcom like The Office, which by its own Season 5 was beginning to show signs of shark-jumping. Not the case with WWDITS.

The previous season revolved around Laszlo Cravensworth, the louché upper-class British sex fiend played by Matt Berry, trying to re-raise energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Prosch), who had died in the previous season but re-generated as a baby. If you watch the show, that previous sentence made sense. There was also Greek freak Nadja’s attempts to run a trendy vampire nightclub, which ended in total disaster. This season’s overarching plotline involves Guillermo, the chubby gay familiar of Nandor the Relentless, gradually transforming into a vampire, but very slowly because he is secretly a Van Helsing-descended vampire hunter. Again, you kind of have to be a fan, but within the context of the show, it all works brilliantly.

What We Do In The Shadows has its share of sitcom cliché bottle episodes. This season falls back on “gay pride parade,” “comedy roast,” and “murder mystery house” in particular. An ordinary sitcom uses “bowling party” or “company picnic day” as an excuse to get all the characters in one place to provide some sort of lamely illuminating character moments. But WWDITS uses them to further the tension about Nandor finding out that Guillermo has betrayed him by having another vampire turn him into a vampire, leaving us to fear the potentially murderous rage of a ravaging monster. That distinguishes the show from the competition. When the stakes come out, quite literally, they are high and bloody.

This season has a number of amusing subplots. Colin Robinson mostly spends the episodes delivering wry asides, though he has one hilarious feature episode involving the return of Vanessa Bayer as his “emotional vampire” love interest. Nadja becomes involved with the denizens of a diner that caters to the citizens of her former homeland, an obscure Balkan backwater called Antipaxos. And Lazslo, trying to “cure” Guillermo, conducts some insane science experiments, leading to some weird human-animal hybrid characters that are a clear nod to ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau.

But the truest sign of What We Do in the Shadows’s greatness may be its use of Kristen Schaal. While Schaal is a talented comic actor, she’s also kind of a modern version of Ted McGinley, the actor who, when he finally showed up late in a TV show’s run, was a sure sign of its doom. Her character “Hazel” took over and ruined the final episodes of ’30 Rock.’ In WWDITS, she plays “The Guide,” who initially was a one-off bureaucracy joke but gradually insinuated herself into the main cast. The show uses this as a meta-plot, depicting her desperately try to join the main ensemble, who clearly doesn’t like or want her. The show manages to keep this as an undercurrent, and Schaal plays it kind of muted, happy to be the sixth banana in a show that’s overstuffed with operatic personalities.

What We Do In The Shadows already has Season 6 on order. At this point, it feels like it could go on forever. After all, it is about vampires. Why not give it the gift of eternal life? And I haven’t even talked about the episode where the crew takes over the set of the local 24-hour news station. It’s a great and apt moment in the natural heir to classic sitcoms, a bloodsucking WKRP.



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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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