This article has spoilers for the first and second season of "What We Do in the Shadows."
What We Do in the Shadows is a love letter to vampire media, written with a feather quill dipped in crimson blood on paper bound half a millennia ago. Its indulgence in genre while keeping the show inventive and hilarious in the latest season cements it as one of the best shows on television right now.
Based on 2014’s cult favorite movie of the same name, Shadows is a mockumentary that follows four vampire roommates and their human familiar as they try, often unsuccessfully, to blend in with their neighbors and live their best un-lives. Writers and stars of the original, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, executive produced the show, with Clement staying on as head writer for the first two seasons.
The characters of Shadows are more bumbling Halloween monsters than foreboding Nosferatu. They live on Staten Island — a borough of New York City so uncool it’s tried and failed to secede from the city multiple times — and believe chain emails can curse them through the internet. Nandor the Relentless channels his energy from his Ottoman-conquering days into trying to control his housemates; Laszlo Cravensworth, an English nobleman, became a vampire to “suck blood and fuck forever”; Nadja claims to have written “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, though in a much more shrill rendition.
Rounding out the house are two outliers. Colin Robinson is an energy vampire (a concept popularized by the Church of Satan in the ‘60s) that feeds on boredom and discomfort the way others live off blood. Guillermo de la Cruz, the one recurring human on the show, works as Nandor’s familiar, serving as both a vampire punching bag and an audience surrogate.
A lesser show would’ve sucked the concept dry then tossed its pale, drained corpse out with the trash. But the Shadows writers, now led by Paul Simms and Stefani J. Robinson, parody the genre expertly and lovingly. References to Twilight and Interview with the Vampire abound, with Guillermo gushing that Antonio Banderas' Armand “was the first time I had seen a Hispanic vampire in mainstream movies."
Virgins hunting happens in LARPing groups and CrossFit gyms. Even throwaway jokes are laugh-out-loud funny — when Guillermo asks Nandor why he didn’t complete a citizenship application in the ‘90s, the heavily-accented vampire replies “Probably because the macarena swept the nation. So I really didn't have time for anything else.”
None of the comedy is at the expense of genuine character development, though. One of the most brilliant moments on the show comes at the tail-end of season one. Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) discovers he’s descended from legendary vampire slayer Abraham van Helsing, and suddenly the 10 years he’s spent working for the murderous monsters are thrown in a whole new light. The writers explore and embrace new dynamics between the characters. Subversions of classic tropes are clever and unexpected — where the genre staple is a human finding out the one they love is an almighty vampire, it’s Nandor that realizes with a shock how much power his familiar wields over him. Thankfully, there are nods to the inherent homoeroticism of the genre.
It helps that the cast is outstanding. Making centuries-old creatures relatable seems easy watching them perform. The chemistry between them works in a rare way, where any two characters that have been paired up for a B-plot flow naturally together. Special mentions go to Guillén, who brings a depth and moral ambiguity to Guillermo that make him so much more compelling than a flat portrayal would have, and Mark Proksch, who never fails to deliver on a Colin Robinson one-liner.
Shadows excels at delivering lively comedy and poignant character development while paying homage to the genre media that made its inception possible. The third season has only furthered this achievement. The third season is airing now on FX and Hulu.
*Thumbnail image screenshot courtesy of FX/Hulu.