Welcome to Previously On, a column that gives you the rundown on the latest TV. In this edition, Valerie Ettenhofer reviews What We Do In The Shadows season 4.
In its refreshing fourth season, What We Do in the Shadows proves that it’s possible to teach an old vampire new tricks. The FX vampire mockumentary lost some luster last year with a season that was at times more grating than funny, but in the latest batch of episodes, the show officially has its groove back and then some.
Originally created by Jemaine Clement based on the film he wrote and directed with Taika Waititi in 2014, the show is now a far cry from where it started. After a first season that riffed on some plots from the film, What We Do in the Shadows fell into a comfortable comedic space, delivering episodes filled with clever monster mythology and cheeky humor but few significant overarching plots. Now, with two more seasons already greenlit, the show seems to be thinking outside the coffin more than ever, restructuring with more ongoing plots as opposed to single-episode outings.
The latest season picks up after a one-year time jump and finds each member of the Staten Island vampire crew with a newfound sense of purpose. Lazlo (Matt Berry) is raising the baby that was born from the chest of their late roommate Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), which he refuses to call Colin despite the fact that the unnerving toddler-adult hybrid clearly shares the energy vampire’s face. Nadja, meanwhile, is on an entrepreneurial streak and is now dead-set on opening up a vampire nightclub with blood sprinklers (“Like in Blade!”). Kristen Schaal’s The Guide, upgraded to a series regular, happily leaves her dusty abode behind to help out with Nadja’s project.
It may seem counterintuitive to set TV’s best horndog couple down two differing narrative paths, but it’s actually great to see Nadja and Lazlo do their own things. Series writers use the opportunity to find new comedic ground for the characters to cover, while both actors are as funny as ever with their new scene partners. The baby Colin plot, in particular, seemed like a terrible twist on paper, yet the show pulls it off shockingly well by replacing the irritatingly mundane office worker with a sweet, geeky kid. Somehow, the presence of a child in the house shifts the tone of the series – which leaned a little too hard into gross-out humor and bickering in season three – for the better.
Nadja and Lazlo aren’t the only characters who have changed during the year off: Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) and Nandor (Kayvan Novak) are also back and sporting an interesting new dynamic of their own. The show has long-since implied that Guillermo is hopeless, haplessly in love with his Master, while Nandor has until now seemed clueless at best and exploitative at worst. As with every other pairing this season, What We Do in the Shadows is finding fresh notes to play in this relationship. Guillermo isn’t mooning over his boss anymore, and Nandor is determined to find a spouse, and somehow neither of those facts makes the pair’s meaningful glances to the camera any less compelling to watch.
What We Do in the Shadows may have matured a little bit this year, but it’s still as silly, raunchy, and laugh-out-loud funny as ever. The show seems to have an endless prize box of monsters and mythical beings to pull from, and each new one is presented with just as much creativity as the last. Fairies, djinns, real-life Pinocchios, and more crop up across the four episodes that were available for review, with the last of the batch providing an expansive look at the show’s larger world when the gang attends the supernatural Night Market.
When it’s firing on all cylinders, What We Do in the Shadows is one of the funniest sitcoms on television. At a few points this season, it still feels like the show is working to regain the comedic foothold that slipped when Clement left the writers’ room after season two, but for the most part, everything it tries works. Berry’s performance, in particular, has become the stuff of legends by this point: the actor can earn a laugh with a single decadent turn of phrase or an incredible pronunciation of a word like “sexual.” Yet the show is smart enough to spread the best lines across its entire cast so that every scene wrings out some serious laughs.
The new season of What We Do in the Shadows is funny, but it’s also doing something exciting that too few sitcoms do: refusing to get complacent. By reshuffling its major players and steering away from comedic beats that have grown comfortable, the series has proven that it has more than enough steam in the engine to keep going for as long as FX keeps renewing it.
What We Do In The Shadows season 4 begins airing July 12th on FX and Hulu.