Based on the pilot of the upcoming What We Do in the Shadows television series, it is going to be exactly what you’d expect it to be. And to that end, it is both perfect and disappointing. From two creators that are entirely based on doing what you wouldn’t expect, it’s a bit of a lackluster result; if you wanted What We Do in the Shadows, you could just watch What We Do in the Shadows. Yet it’s still undeniable that this is a funny, weird, and charming show from start to finish.
Be sure to take all of this with a grain of salt, too, as all that was screened at SXSW was the pilot, and pilot episodes are almost always more proof of concept than showstopper art. It was, in fact, filmed far ahead and far detached from the rest of the series before it was even greenlit for full production. (According to the cast and crew Q&A that followed the screening, anyway.) Pilots have to take the bulk of the thankless tasks like establishing setting and character dynamics without having any of the fun of payoff.
The show takes a similar tack to the film for this. As a mockumentary (though more of a The Office-like conceit than integral Spinal Tap component), we follow the lives of four vampires living in Staten Island. Being immortal beings, though, they come from a wide spectrum of human history. Nandor (Kayvan Novak), for instance, was a soldier for the Ottoman Empire, which makes for much of his modern existence incongruous with his historical one.
The fish out of water sort of gag is a tempting one; you can really phone it in and it’s still technically a comedy. But through pointed writing by Jemaine Clement and hands-off directing from Taika Waititi (the two aforementioned creators), it works. The construction of the goofs is especially delightful. The Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) relationship is just gold all over with their interactions operating as a nonstop font of barbs and jabs.
It may feel a bit worn, though, for fans of the film. The master and familiar dynamic between Nandor and human facilitator Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), luring humans into the house as unsuspecting blood bags, casually doing vampire things like sleeping in coffins and turning into bats. It’s executed here with the commensurate amount of panache, but fans will likely just politely smile and nod along.
In some ways, though, that’s a comfort. You’d want to make sure the show is going to capture the same sort of gallows and absurdist humor as the movie and engage with the same kind of audience. It feels more like a litmus test than a retread of the old material. Clement and Waititi have to make sure that what they want to do is what is going to get watched.
Most inspiring, however, is a fifth vampire named Colin (Mark Proksch). He’s not a traditional bloodsucker, though; he’s instead what’s known as an energy vampire, a being that subsists on people’s literal energy by boring them through inane conversation. And it is, without exaggeration, one of the funniest things I’ve seen this or any year.
It’s a nice flex to show that even amidst trying to figure out how to stretch a tight and concise mockumentary into an entire series, the creators still have both the room and capability to find new spaces to play in while establishing future threads. Like will Guillermo ever get his wish and become a vampire? Will Nandor ever figure out credit cards? Will Matt Berry ever be anything less than perfect?
Catch the premiere of the What We Do in the Shadows series on FX on March 27, 2019.