A Review of What We Do in the Shadows
I am currently going feral over the third season of What We Do in the Shadows. Based on the 2014 Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement film of the same name, the show began airing on FX in 2019; like the movie, it’s a mockumentary sitcom centered around the daily lives of a household of vampires. It’s been hilarious for its entire run, but this season’s focus on building compelling drama between its characters and expanding on their relationships is a compelling choice.
What We Do in the Shadows is carried by its characters, each of whom brings something unique to the comedic table. All the vampires are morons in the most lovable sense. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) is a loud-mouthed easily-frustrated agent of chaos, and her sex-obsessed husband Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry) never fails to crack me up with his bizarre line deliveries. Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak) is an iconic Ottoman warlord turned malewife, and Colin Robinson is a beige-colored office drone Energy Vampire, a vampire that feeds on the annoyance he causes others. The only character with a braincell is the one human of the cast, Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), former servant to Nandor and current badass vampire hunter, who has mastered the art of glancing at the camera whenever something stupid happens.
As always, this season is inundated with the sorts of gags that burrow into your brain and live there rent free. Since the show is based on Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s work, this is hardly surprising. But to give those two all the credit is a disservice to the show’s writers, who milk an admirable amount of humor from clever lampooning of classic vampire tropes and the stupidity of their characters. Time and time again the vampires find themselves in the most absurd situations, and watching them trying to navigate them never gets old. There is an inherent absurdism to seeing vampires living their daily lives and trying to interact with the mundane world, and the show never forgets it. The jokes are sharp, and there are moments of biting commentary; in an early season three episode, Colin Robinson remarks, “At every office I’ve worked at, they always say, ‘We’re a big family here.’ And it does motivate people to work harder and neglect their actual families and put up with all sorts of degrading shit.”
The third season has its weak moments—particularly the baffling increase of potty humor—but it also delivers some of the funniest episodes of the entire show. The highlights of the season are “The Casino” (my personal favorite of the season), “The Escape,” and “The Wellness Center.” But great jokes are nothing new; what sets this season apart is its focus on character drama and development. Previous seasons did have those things; Guillermo’s arc from meek servant to vampire killer is a highlight of season two, and in that same season “Colin’s Promotion” was dedicated to exploring Colin Robinson’s relationship with the rest of the cast. But now, there is more time spent on exploring those relationships, which are the emotional core of the show.
The two relationships that get the most development are between Laszlo and Colin Robinson, and between Nandor and Guillermo. Nadja, my beloved, has spent her time this season tearing out people’s hearts with her bare hands and learning self-love; she and Nandor do get a fair amount of screen time together as they squabble over power. In previous seasons, Laszlo was constantly by the side of his good lady wife Nadja, and Colin Robinson mostly appeared on his own. But season three has seen them spending most of their scenes together, playing off each other and exchanging one-liners. It’s a refreshing and funny change of pace, but as the season progresses, it begins to seem that there’s something more going on. There are moments of real devotion and tenderness between the two characters, both of whom were defined by their lack of care for others in previous seasons.
And then there’s the talk of the town: the honest-to-God gay slowburn romance between Guillermo and Nandor. All the vampires in What We Do in the Shadows have been openly and explicitly queer since the pilot, and in past seasons there has been subtextual romantic tension between the two characters—a fact that both Harvey Guillen and Kayvan Novak readily admit. Nandor’s arc this season centers around his sudden sense of loneliness in the face of his changing relationship with Guillermo, and his quest to find love. And the show seems to be setting up Guillermo as the destination of that quest. Everything from the cinematography to the dialogue to the fucking promotional material is screaming about their twisted Jim-and-Pam tension. I know, I hardly believe it either, but they’re on a crash-course to kissing and I’m sitting here in agonizing anticipation waiting for it to happen. (Also now whenever I hear the song “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies I have a fight-or-flight response.)
I didn’t even know how badly I wanted them together until the drama between them took center stage and drove them apart. “The Farewell” was billed as the most emotional episode of the show, and for good reason. It sees Nandor, depressed by his romantic failures, pushing away everyone he cares about—including Guillermo who is distraught by Nandor’s rejection and fighting to make him stay. They’re in love, but neither believes the other could possibly love them, and they’re hurting one another because of this tragic misunderstanding.
“The Farewell” also broke the subtle tension of Laszlo and Colin Robinson’s friendship in devastating fashion. Something is revealed that recontextualizes their entire friendship and deepens our understanding of Laszlo’s selfless care for his friend. This reveal, which I will not tell you, leaves the characters distraught, and leads to the most shocking, upsetting ending any episode of this show has ever had. When I finished it, I was staring at my screen with my jaw dropped in astonishment, wanting nothing more than to time-travel a week forward to see how they could possibly resolve it.
And that is what makes me insane about this show! It drew me in with the promises of funny vampire jokes, and now it’s breaking my heart. Suddenly, I’m staying up late to watch episodes as soon as they air and abstaining from social media to avoid spoilers like it’s fucking Game of Thrones, all for a 22-minute vampire sitcom. Will Nandor and Guillermo kiss this episode? What sickeningly kind thing will Laszlo do for Colin Robinson next? Will Nadja tear out more hearts with her bare hands? Who knows! I’m invested! And now that investment is hurting me! Seasons one and two made me laugh, and season three has learned to make me cry.
But at the same time, it’s so satisfying to see the show develop into something new, to see its emotional core burn brighter than ever before. The characters have strengthened their bonds in a beautiful, moving way, and all the agony makes it clear that those bonds are more than simple joke fodder. They are real, honest connections. In “The Farewell,” Colin Robinson repeats the line, “We’re like a big family here,” and this time you get the sense he means it.
By the time this review is released, the final episode of the season will have aired, and I unfortunately have no clue what happens in it—probably something that makes me want to go outside and out-scream the geese. I’m looking forward to it immensely.
What We Do in the Shadows is on FX and on Hulu.