The 2014 film “What We Do in the Shadows” brought needed fresh energy to the vampire genre through its mockumentary set-up and brilliant deadpan humor. It never received a wide U.S. release, and its legacy is that of a cult classic: a film with a small but devoted following. Now, the film’s co-creators, Taika Waititi and Jeremy Clement, are bringing vampires to the small screen, with a new show of the same name on FX. The show closely follows the movie’s intimate mockumentary formula with great success. It’s a needed win for FX, a channel far from its comedy heyday of “The League,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and early seasons of “Archer.”
The show and the film are pretty similar, which makes sense, given that Waititi and Clement came back to write and direct various episodes. Both follow a group of three vampires living with each other in a house and explore the internal dynamics within the group. They have almost the same opening sequence, title sequence and character introductions. However, the show draws more comedy out of its opening sequence, with Nandor struggling to get out of his coffin, forcing Guillermo to pry it open with a butter knife. The film gets more out of its character introductions, by showing the characters’ ages (ranging from 180 to 8000 years old) during their first interviews with the documentary crew.
Simply put, in comparing the show and the film, the film has better characters, but the show has better laughs. The movie had some excellent side roles like Stu, a shy and bland human who provided great contrast to the vampires’ absurd antics, but the show lacks these foils — at least for now. Viago, played by Taika Waititi, shines in the movie as the group’s sweet, quirky and dorky leader. The rest of the film’s core trio, who live together in a Wellington, New Zealand flat, is nicely filled out by the brash Vladislav and rebellious Deacon.
That isn’t to say the show’s characters aren’t interesting. Nandor is a similar character to Viago and adopts the role of house leader. The trio is completed by Laszlo and Nadja, a centuries-old married couple that wedded after Nadja turned Laszlo into a vampire. Their chemistry is great, playing off of their mutual sex and blood lust. Then there’s Guillermo, who shines as Nandor’s familiar, which Guillermo describes as a “best friend... who is also a slave.” He is forced to clean up blood, dispose of dead bodies and clean the house, all in hopes of eventually becoming a vampire himself. The show also adds a new type of vampire to the mix, an energy vampire named Colin. An energy vampire is the most common type of vampire, as most extremely boring office colleagues are energy vampires who suck out their victim’s energy through dull conversations.
Where the show improves on the movie is in the humor. The show peppers its runtime with way more jokes than the movie, most of which land quite well. In the house meeting that starts the first episode, Nandor scolds the other vampires for keeping shouting and screaming half-drunk people in the cellar. Laslow was confused by this, since there was not any alcohol in the cellar, to which Nandor replies that they were not intoxicated but instead half of their blood had been drunk. He said that this was unhygienic, which prompted Nanja to suggest labelling victims with their owner’s name and the date they were brought down to the cellar, as if they were yogurt in a refrigerator.
The show also introduces some new additions, such as a setting in America rather than new Zealand, which dramatically changes the landscape for conflict. In an early scene, a man in a park tells Laszlo and Nadja, who are fully dressed up in colonial garb, to go back to their own country. Laszlo and Nadja, of course, respond by flying him up to a tree and eating him over his confused girlfriend. A pool of his blood falls from the tree onto her head, creating a hilariously grotesque scene that perfectly encapsulates the dark, dry, deadpan humor this show is going for.
Although the premiere was delightful, some concerns remain with the rest of the season. The movie began to drag in the middle, even though it was only 85 minutes long. Both the movie and the show are filled with mundane activities — like chores or grocery shopping — that poke fun at the overly-serious vampire genre as a whole. The movie relied too much on this conceptual bit, without any semblance of a plot, which may have been what kept it from feeling particularly substantial. The show has actual plot points, which may save it from this fate.
If it develops the characters further and continues with its stellar humor, “What We Do in the Shadows” may be able to keep its appeal going for this season and possibly longer. Regardless of whether or not the show works in the long run, the premiere was a smart and hilarious next step in the “What We Do in the Shadows” universe.