In 2014 Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi‘s horror-comedy-mockumentary film about four vampires rooming together in Wellington crept quietly across the globe, charming everyone in its path. Then 2018 saw the launch of Wellington Paranormal, a spinoff horror-comedy-mockumentary series. And this month, What We Do in the Shadows is coming to America as a new FX show.
The What We Do in the Shadows empire is expanding rapidly, and I for one welcome Jemaine and Taika as our new vampire overlords.
The pair aren’t starring in this iteration, but the pilot is written by Clement and directed by Waititi, with Clement directing at least the next three episodes. And their mantle is being held up handily by Natasia Demetriou, Matt Berry, and Kayvan Novak, who play a new trio of vampires rooming together, this time in Staten Island.
The original’s American counterpart (made up, with a certain delicious irony, of all British actors) are a joy to watch, and despite feeling new, they manage to embody perfectly the brand of humor that made the film so funny.
It’s a humor based in a very particular pitiful optimism — an embarrassed confidence of characters who aren’t doing very well in life and are only halfway to realizing it, but who are excited to show off to a camera crew anyway. This type of character could exist anywhere, and the fact that it’s come to be tied up inextricably with the mysticism and careless violence of ancient vampires is endlessly charming.
It’s that style of character and comedy that does such a stellar job of continuing the tone of the original film — even though these new vampires are distinct characters with their own hilarious foibles, their attitudes and problem-solving methods are of the same pitch as those of their predecessors. The characters are different, but they have a signature pathetic ineffectuality that can really define a scene.
That ineffectuality plays well with the extended plot of a tv series. It’s not, if we’re being honest, a very extended plot. But it’s just enough. The pilot episode ends with a small catalyst that lends the following episodes just enough direction to move the show beyond a slice of life documentary. There is an (unreachable) goal, and there is a (misguided and pathetic) drive to reach that goal.
It’s the perfect amount of additional focus to highlight just how unfocused our poor vampires are, and the results are sublime.
Of course, the show has more going for it than tone. There are some excellent expansions on existing ideas, such as Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), our pitiful and sweet window into the world of mortal familiars. Even better are the unique additions to the universe, most notably Mark Proksch’s role as Colin Robinson, a slightly different kind of vampire. It’s a beautifully simple and creative piece of world-building in this Staten Island that’s almost like ours — a brush with the mundane that’s just close enough, it makes you wonder if you’ve actually known a vampire or two and never realized it.
If you loved the original What We Do in the Shadows and are worried about a lack of familiar New Zealanders, don’t be. The new crew are just as hopeless and unusually likable (especially Matt Berry, who’ll hopefully finally become a household name in America). And while the performances are spot-on, it’s the uniquely WWDITS style and humor pervading the scripts (writing credits include comedy veterans Paul Simms, Josh Lieb, and Tom Scharpling) that make it feel like home. Vampires everywhere have the same struggles with roommates and immortality, even in the New World.
What We Do in the Shadows premieres Wednesday, March 27th at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX. You’d better watch it.