Long before Thor: Ragnarok made him a household name, Taika Waititi was just another filmmaker. He had a couple of nice credits to his name, a Sundance festival hit in the shape of Boy here, a few credits on New Zealand comedy series Flight of the Conchords there, but nothing that leapt out at you as someone to truly keep an eye on. 4 years on from his festival hit, Waititi returned with a vampire mockumentary with his long-term creative partner, Jermaine Clement, and the rest is history. 2014’s What We Do in the Shadows became something of a phenomenon, earning massive acclaim on its debut and earned a huge following once it hit streaming services. 5 years after that, a TV adaptation of the show landed on FX and BBC Two with Waititi and Clement taking creative roles this time, but the reception of the show follows firmly in the footsteps of the film it was based on.
In this adaptation, set in the same universe as the film, we follow 4 vampires who have been living in Staten Island together for hundreds of years and their quest for vampiric domination. Joined by their familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, and Colin Robinson deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life in the same way the film did. Quite simply, it’s a joy to watch.
Part of the brilliance of the original premise was its simplicity. Putting vampires in human scenarios and giving them vampiric twists is rife with opportunity; Clement and Waititi return to this well time and time again in the series with hilarious results. You’ll see the characters undertake trivial tasks like gardening, throwing parties (see: orgies), having neighbourly feuds, taking a citizenship test, and working office jobs. It’s full to the brim of menial tasks people complete every single day, but it’s given a comedic twist thanks to the whip-smart writing and the spot-on performances from the cast. While I felt some episodes dipped too far into the conventional comedy well, when the series is firing on all vampire-shaped cylinders, it’s one of the funniest comedies of the year.
Kayvan Novak, mainly known for 2010’s terrific Four Lions and his work on British comedy shows like Fonejacker and Facejacker, plays the lead role of Nandor, the self-proclaimed leader of the group. Nandor is goofy and unashamedly loves America, constantly being amazed by human inventions and frequenting local Halloween shops with his familiar, Guillermo. Novak embodies a similar energy to Waititi’s Viago from the original film, the off-kilter foreigner who just wants to enjoy himself. Nandor is downright hilarious throughout, with his reactions to most everything being the highlight of many episodes; a personal favourite was Nandor coming face to face with “the most virginest of virgins” and frothing at the mouth at the sight of said virgin getting a nosebleed.
I could wax lyrical about all 5 of the main characters. Guillermo is the straight man, constantly at the behest of his master, having to do all of the daily tasks the vampires can’t do in the sunlight like cleaning, cooking, and disposing corpses, but it’s Guillermo’s exasperation at constantly being asked to do all of these things and the never-fulfilled promise of becoming a vampire himself that makes Guillermo so funny. Guillermo is the heart of the series as our human voice of reason, but mercifully, Waititi and Clement give him much more to do on a personal level as he undergoes some interesting developments as the series progresses and sets up Season 2 perfectly.
Colin Robinson is the series’ dark horse. As an energy vampire, Colin can go outside during the day and live a mostly normal life, but his vampire powers boil down to boring humans and absorbing their boredom energy. In one of the series best episodes, we follow Colin about his day to day life in his office job, a tedious job in a flat, bland, grey room, but this is where Colin thrives. The boredom of the room fuels him until a rival energy vampire, Evie (“Evie…E. V. …Energy Vampire!”), joins the team. These two come to blows over the course of a stellar 22 minutes and it culminates in an outright hilarious energy-vampire-off that needs to be seen to be believed. Mark Proksch plays Colin Robinson brilliantly, adding some pitch-perfect deadpan humour to the largely ridiculous comedy that surrounds him.
Nadja is arguably the vampire who’s most fed up with human living and is constantly butting heads with her other 4 male roommates. Married to Matt Berry’s Laszlo, Nadja fondly recalls past relationships before Laszlo as the two undergo marriage strain due to boredom. Nadja, sadly, is the most underdeveloped of the characters, though Natasia Demetriou does everything she can with Nadja by owning every killer one-liner and being the series’ most frequent user of the look-to-the-camera we’re so familiar with from shows like The Office. I hope Season 2 develops Nadja further because there’s some solid groundwork here that needs to be built upon.
Finally, we come to Matt Berry’s Laszlo. Matt Berry has floated around the British comedy scene for a long time after appearing in The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but he’s never found the role that catapults him to stardom. I believe Laszlo is that role, because he is hysterical. Laszlo’s unabashed confidence and belief in himself is his superpower, with countless stories from his 700-year existence to date, all of which are delivered with aplomb by Berry. His line delivery is a series highlight; Berry’s ability to say single words comedically is consistently hilarious, and even after 10 episodes, I laughed every time at Laszlo yelling “bat!” as he transforms into one. All of our leads are brilliant in their own ways, but Matt Berry is my series MVP.
Across every episode, all the characters are given their own episodes and their own chances to shine, but the series high point is a quasi-two-parter in episodes 6 and 7 – “Baron’s Night Out” and “The Trial.” The first is just a classically funny episode as the clan go on a night out in Manhattan with the Baron, an ancient vampire who sent Nandor and co. to take America for their own. But, this episode is only a set up for “The Trial” which is the series reaching its apex. To spoil the episode would be cruel because the surprises that await you are worth witnessing with your own eyes, but on top of all of the surprises is an episode with jokes firing at you from every direction from every character at such a rate that it’s worth watching again and again.
What We Do in the Shadows is a brilliant debut season. It’s consistently funny, it gives every character their moments in the spotlight, and above all, has a completely on board cast to take the show into the ridiculous places it needs to. Not every episode is as funny as the show can be, but the hits far, far outweigh the misses. For Taika Waititi, the hits keep on coming.