The vampire mockumentary continues to be one of cable’s funniest, most lovable sitcoms.
What We Do in the Shadows is really kind of a miracle. Whereas most movie to TV adaptations are retconned to the point where they barely resemble their source material, even without the original cast What We Do perfectly maintains the spirit, cheeky humor, and undeniable charm of the 2014 film of the same name. With the addition of breakaway characters Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) and “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), it even stands alone on its own merits as one of cable’s most consistently funny sitcoms. What a relief it is that no sign of sophomore slump is evident as it begins its second season.
Picking up a couple months after the events of season one, Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) have gone through a half-dozen familiars who have all died gruesome deaths, Colin Robinson has gotten his driver’s license, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) turned to dust and was accidentally sucked through an air purifier, and beleaguered houseboy/familiar Guillermo, who discovered he’s a Van Helsing, is secretly killing rival vampires who mean to do the household harm. There’s also the unresolved issue of Nadja’s vampire-in-training Jenna (Beanie Feldstein), who disappeared in season one, but will undoubtedly reappear at some point here, in all of her lovably awkward glory.
Guillermo briefly has a rival in new familiar Topher (Haley Joel Osment), who makes Guillermo do his work for him while running a side hustle selling “apple flavored” cider. Despite this, the vampires love Topher, while being more dismissive and unappreciative of Guillermo than ever before. Topher isn’t around for very long, however, though he briefly returns as a zombie, brought back from the dead by a necromancer (Benedict Wong) who also sells souvenir key rings. As it turns out, Staten Island is a hotbed of supernatural activity, as the gang encounters zombies, ghosts, haunted dolls, cursed chain emails and Babadooks. Or rather, as Nando corrects Guillermo, “You saw one Babadook, not several, don’t exaggerate.”
These encounters are generally second to the practical issues of being centuries old vampires in a modern world. While Colin Robinson tries to experiment with humor to bore his victims into submission (his delight when someone finally takes the bait on the “what’s updog” joke is a season highlight so far), Nandor still struggles to learn how to use a computer, believing he simply has to wave his fingers over the keyboard to type something. They also continue to have close calls with their neighbors, including one who invites them to a Super Bowl party and ends up with what Laszlo calls the “brain scramblies” after they hypnotize him too hard.
As it turns out, Staten Island is a hotbed of supernatural activity, as the gang encounters zombies, ghosts, haunted dolls, cursed chain emails and Babadooks.
The biggest gag in What We Do in the Shadows is how Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja have managed to keep themselves alive (or rather, undead) for hundreds of years. Despite their open distaste for them, they couldn’t survive without Colin Robinson, whose 9 to 5 office job salary pays for their house, and Guillermo, who’s always around to clean up whatever literal and figurative messes they make, makes sure they’re well-stocked in victims, and quietly saves their lives numerous times. Nandor can’t even fall asleep without Guillermo standing by his coffin.
Though Colin Robinson isn’t given much to do in the first four episodes available for critics (trailers tease that he will grow a head of spectacular televangelist hair later in the season), Guillermo is front and center, to the show’s benefit. Even when just glancing at the camera in “can you believe this shit?” exasperation, Harvey Guillén is giving one of the greatest comedic performances of the century. In a role that could have easily been played as an over the top take on Renfield, he’s understated, touching, and incredibly charming. We have no idea how Guillermo ended up in the vampires’ employ, but it might be the only good decision any of them have ever made.
In what’s turning into a surprisingly compelling (particularly for a sitcom) plotline, Guillermo finds himself increasingly torn between his loyalty and affection for Nandor and the others, and his heritage as a Van Helsing. When he falls in with a group of vampire hunters who refer to themselves as “mosquito collectors” (and discovers that he’s a crack shot with a crossbow), he attempts to warn the vampires about potential danger. When that warning is ignored in favor of chastising him for not being around to help them with a decade-old chain email from “Bloody Mary,” some cracks finally start to show in Guillermo’s impassive surface. You can only stand to be unappreciated for your hard work for so long, after all.
Much like the relationship between Deacon and his familiar Jackie in the movie, Guillermo’s attachment to the vampires, particularly Nandor, has not just the classic master/slave dynamic, but elements of a parent/child relationship (in which Guillermo is the put upon parent and Nandor his spoiled, ungrateful child), and a codependent romance. For Guillermo, being made into a vampire, which is something Nandor has been teasing him with for who knows how long, isn’t just the ticket to eternal life, or being part of a family, it’s like being asked to prom by the homecoming king. Guillén, who identifies as queer in real life, quietly brings that into his role in What We Do in the Shadows in a way that doesn’t seem forced or pandering. All he wants is for Nandor to love and appreciate all that he does for him, and you don’t have to be a creature of the night to understand that.
Season 2 of What We Do in the Shadows rises from the grave on FX starting tonight.