Reviews · TV

‘What We Do In The Shadows’ Season 5 Loses The Plot But It Still Makes Us Laugh

Five seasons in, the FX vampire comedy isn’t the sharpest it’s ever been, but it’s still worth a watch thanks to its always-stellar cast.
What We Do In The Shadows Season 5 Review
By  · Published on July 13th, 2023

Welcome to Previously On, a column that is keeping an eye on the latest returning TV shows. In this edition, Valerie Ettenhofer reviews season 5 of FX’s What We Do In The Shadows.

Like an unsuspecting human reeling from a bite to the jugular, What We Do In The Shadows has lost a bit of its lifeblood. The series’ decline has been gradual and inconsistent enough to keep fans watching, and it patches over its weak spots by exploring a seemingly endless supply of untapped supernatural mythology, but in its fifth season, it’s clear that the show is meandering. Sure, the FX vampire comedy never claimed to be on track in the first place – it’s always played fast and loose with any semblance of a serialized plot – but its fourth season proved that the series is at its best when it’s kind of about something, even if it’s not necessarily something important. Now, with most of its ongoing plots wrapped up or put on the back burner in favor of decent but semi-forgettable sitcom shenanigans, What We Do In The Shadows isn’t exactly bringing its A-game.

To be clear, the series’ B- or C-game is still better than many a TV comedy. There’s plenty of humor to be gleaned from Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) dismissing a baby for being too young to vote, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) hypnotizing a crowd to forget he tripped and fell, or Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) striking a splits-like aerobic pose on a date and declaring, “Look how wide I am!” The show is by no means short on funny in its new season, even if the comedy occasionally goes back to the same well (vampires are self-absorbed and treat some people like garbage, get it?) a few too many times. Rather, the problem with season 5 is what’s missing. Season 4 introduced an array of ongoing plotlines – Guillermo’s (Harvey Guillén) attempt to get over his crush on Nandor, Nandor’s short-lived marriage, the babyfication of Colin, and Nadja’s nightclub – and without them, the latest episodes feature a fairly glaring narrative void.

Some of the dropped plots are more conspicuous than others, as when a supporting character pops up in episode two to remind everyone that they’ve forgotten about her whole arc, only to be ignored. Even the previous season finale’s cliffhanger, in which human familiar Guillermo went around Nandor’s back and paid an acquaintance to turn him into a vampire, is backpedaled in a way that’s more frustrating than compelling. The Staten Island vampires seem to be obsessed with keeping Guillermo from reaching his full vampiric potential, but by this point, so do the show’s writers. The new season’s primary (and pretty much only) overarching plot involves the aftermath of Guillermo’s attempt to turn, and while it’s intriguing, it’s teased out at too leisurely a pace – taking a slow burn approach to a moment we’ve waited years for in a way that only a show that’s already been renewed for an additional season would do.

It would be unfair to say the series has lost its magic because it’s clearly still there in some capacity – thanks in large part to the stellar cast and their by now lived-in performances. Matt Berry can still drop a spit-take-worthy pronunciation with the grace and timing of a poet, and while most of the main characters feel rather static in the four episodes available for review, his Laszlo continues to be a utility player. Novak, too, has only gotten funnier as the show has worn on, and while some of the series’ recurring jokes have grown stale, Nandor’s endless quest for companionship (and complete inability to be companionable) remains endearing and hilarious. Still, the clear talent of the ensemble makes me wish the scripts this season were just a hair better, as actors like breakout Guillén, master of the sidelong glance at the camera, aren’t given a ton to do.

The show’s sense of arrested development may stem from its restless treatment of its central non-relationship. Guillermo and Nandor have long since been at the heart of the series, and while the pair seem like an ill-fitting match by this point (Nandor has done a whole lot of unforgivable things), their complicated, ever-stymied connection is often the most interesting part of the series. This season, the pair are neither at odds nor making moon eyes at one another, but mostly coexisting as if the entire fourth season didn’t happen. Somehow, that’s even worse than when Nandor banged a clone of Guillermo’s boyfriend. It’s perfectly possible that the season’s lone percolating plot thread will address this dissipation of tension with time, but for now, their severed connection makes the show feel even more scattered.

At the end of season 4, Guillermo came to a bittersweet realization: the vampires he loves always stay the same, but something’s still got to change. It’s a lesson the show would do well to learn from. What We Do In The Shadows could probably keep coasting on the same aimless, stupid-funny comedy it’s often relied on, but it’s more interesting when it lets itself evolve and even get ever-so-slightly introspective. The show is clever, hilarious, and compelling at its best, but unfortunately, the latest season is a little less than its best.

What We Do In The Shadows season 5 is currently airing on FX and Hulu. Watch the season trailer here.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)