The undead roommates finally begin to learn how to live together as the FX sitcom continues its extraordinary run as the funniest show on TV
It’s been said (okay, only I’ve said it) that sitcoms shouldn’t run more than three or four seasons. Any longer than that, and they run the risk of getting stale, resorting to tired tactics like flashback episodes, forced romantic relationships, and adding cute wisecracking kids. So it’s a wondrous thing that, in its third season, What We Do in the Shadows, shows no signs of flagging, of having to fall back on retreads, or even having a musical episode. Despite what feels like a limiting premise, it’s as fresh and funny as ever before, somehow managing to maintain a remarkable balance between raunch and sweetness.
When last we saw Nandor and the others, they were facing execution by the Vampiric Council, but saved at the last minute by the ever-reliable Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who both killed their rivals and revealed himself as a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing. Season 3 picks up a month later, during which Guillermo has been held in a basement dungeon and only given raw chicken to eat, while it’s argued over whether to kill him or not. Or at least, they think he’s being held in the dungeon, as it’s quickly revealed that Guillermo simply sneaks out during the day and tends to the house while the vampires sleep (“They think it’s magic,” he says).
Though Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) both would rather be rid of Guillermo, and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) “couldn’t give a cat’s knuckle” about what happens to him, surprisingly it’s Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak) who argues in favor of sparing his life. As the end of last season revealed, Nandor has grudgingly realized that he needs Guillermo, not just to do his laundry and dispose of dead bodies, but for companionship. The others don’t seem to disagree that they need Guillermo so much as they’re reluctant to admit it.
The debate ends up proving moot, however, when the Guide (season one returning guest Kristen Schaal, now in a recurring role) appears to inform the gang that, solely because Guillermo killed everyone else, they’re now the heads of the Vampiric Council for their area. Nandor and Nadja try, with mixed success, to maintain dual ownership of the title of “Supreme Leader” of the Council, while Guillermo is not just spared, but promoted from vampire familiar to vampire bodyguard, which, not surprisingly, is pretty much like being a familiar, only he gets to wear a suit.
With the exasperated Guide as their, uh, guide, the gang learns the ropes about running the Council, which mostly seems to involve such mundane tasks as collecting dues, but also allows them access to thousands of years of priceless vampire-related artifacts, including Van Helsing’s penis in a jar, and the magical “Cloak of Duplication.” Nandor, who despite being 750 years old and having had 37 wives over that time, is terrible at flirting, immediately steals the cloak to help him woo the woman he has a crush on, a 24 hour gym desk clerk. First he asks Colin Robinson to disguise himself as Nandor, who attempts to neg her by greeting her with “Hey, dipshit,” and then, when that unsurprisingly doesn’t work, Laszlo, who tries to woo her by playing Steely Dan’s “Peg” on a mandolin and showing her graphic medieval pornography.
I won’t go into detail on all four of the episodes available for review, but suffice to say, other than the occasional reliance on poop jokes, there’s still not a single false note hit by either the writers or the actors. The season highlight (so far) is the fourth episode, in which the gang, along with Guillermo, takes a rare trip away from home, accompanying their neighbors on a party bus to Atlantic City. Having grown up there, I can say with confidence that no other media has so accurately captured the unique despair of “America’s Playground” like this does, as the characters wander around an eerily empty casino floor, Nandor becoming addicted to a Big Bang Theory themed slot machine, and Colin Robinson cheating at poker by boring his competitors into a stupor. Solely based on that, it still remains the funniest sitcom of the past ten years.
Other than the occasional reliance on poop jokes, there’s still not a single false note hit by either the writers or the actors.
While last season seemed to be mostly about the vampires’ places in the supernatural realm, this season is more focused on their learning to exist in the mortal realm. In an as yet unresolved storyline, Colin Robinson, facing his 100th birthday and with no idea when or how he was turned into an energy vampire, seeks to discover more about where he came from. Nandor, after once again being rejected by Gail, his occasional friend with benefits (for the past forty years), admits he’s lonely and would like a romantic partner. Guillermo, still struggling with his loyalty to the others and his identity as a Van Helsing, also reveals that he’s struggling with a different kind of aspect of his identity. All of them together, including Laszlo and Nadja, come to the (perhaps grudging, but still) realization that they all need each other, not just because they’re the only ones of their kind left in the area (or at least, Staten Island), but because it’s not good to be entirely alone in the world, whether you’re immortal or not.
As always, the heart of the show remains Nandor and Guillermo’s touchingly odd parent-child/master-servant/unrequited (for now) crush relationship. There’s a warmth to it that wasn’t there before, as Guillermo becomes less of a slave and more someone whose presence Nandor genuinely values. It’s difficult to say whether the potential for them to eventually become a couple is based on wishful thinking, but it’s also safe to say that it certainly feels possible, and in a show so gleefully off-color, that bit of sugar is a wonderful thing.
Though Harvey Guillén is still the centerpoint which the best aspects of the show revolve around, credit must be given to Kayvan Novak, who is doing some incredible work this season. Whether doing dead-on impersonations of Colin Robinson and Laszlo in the “Cloak of Duplication” episode, or dancing in a Bob Seger t-shirt and nothing else (his crotch hilariously pixelated out), Nandor is front and center for most of the first half of the season, to nothing but the show’s benefit. That’s perhaps the best thing about What We Do in the Shadows, regardless of what season it is: every single actor in it brings something wholly unique to it. Such a perfect melding of performance, writing, and directing, without a single weak link to be found, is nothing short of a miracle in a sitcom, and I hope it proves to be as immortal as its characters.
Season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows premieres on FX September 2nd.