Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s brilliant mockumentary feature “What We Do in the Shadows,” adapted from their 2005 short of the same name, taught me two things. One, if there’s a single constant I can count on to provide gut-busting laughs at the drop of a hat, it’s the night-to-night escapades of quarreling vampire roommates separated by large generation gaps. And secondly, it’s now pronounced ‘basghetti and meatballs’; anyone who says otherwise is a cop.
Any initial hesitation toward the announcement of a television spinoff immediately dissipated upon learning that not only would the series take place within the same world, but also that Waititi and Clement would be creative forces behind its development. And to my absolute wonderment, the first season of FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” is not just a worthy successor to its 2014 counterpart — it has, surprisingly, surpassed it. Within minutes, Colin (Mark Proksch), Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Nandor (Kayvan Novak) had won me over in spades. And I, like Guillermo, was ready to spend eternity with them in their Staten Island abode. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch.
Last season’s finale (“Ancestry”) featured Nadja finally giving up her secret lover Jeff (Jake McDorman), another reincarnation of her long lost lover Gregor, before accidentally decapitating himself on the front lawn; Nandor giving someone from his bloodline a heart attack; and an unexpected revelation for loyal familiar Guillermo. It’s not every day you casually research your family lineage only to find out you share the same blood as the most notorious vampire slayer in history. Welcome to the Van Helsings! Will he ignore his murderous heritage or inadvertently join the family business? Needless to say, the stakes are raised. I refuse to apologize for that.
Just a forewarning that everything from here on out is loaded with *SPOILERS*, so read at your own risk!
Episode 1 – “Resurrection” (dir. Kyle Newacheck)
It doesn’t take long before last season’s cliffhanger starts to pay off. A brief montage displays Guillermo swiftly exterminating vampire assassins, dispatched after the group’s narrow escape from the Vampiric Council, with the efficiency of John Wick. It’s amazing what six months will do, transforming you from timid familiar to timid familiar who can also drive a stake through trained vampire killers without blinking an eye. It makes sense considering there were a few moments last season that showed Guillermo’s dark side just waiting to burst out. Harvey Guillén (“The Magicians”) is game for anything. Nadja and Laszlo, meanwhile, have finally found themselves a new familiar, after the rest somehow managed to either impale themselves, get shot in the face, fall down a well or become engulfed in flames, let alone the one the Baron (“The Shape of Water”’s Doug Jones) devoured like a midnight snack.
Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”) guest stars as the new familiar, who’s immediately popular with everyone in the house. Guillermo couldn’t kiss as much ass no matter how hard he tried. The secretive slayer gets the last laugh, momentarily, as he leads Topher to an easy electrical death in the backyard pond. Even he’s shocked (heh) by how efficiently he was able to pull that off. If anything, Guillermo pretty much saved everyone again after Topher, unbeknownst to him, invited two assassins inside the house. Devastated by the loss of yet another familiar, Nadja and Laszlo demand Guillermo dig up the newly fresh corpse. It’s time to pay a visit to the necromancer.
Benedict Wong (“Doctor Strange”) also makes a wonderful guest appearance as Wallace, a local NY necromancer who possesses the great power to revive fresh souls from beyond the grave. It’ll cost you $350 though; he can’t stress that part enough. It’s already challenging for him to run a touristy operation where it appears no one purchases his knick knacks. The vampire trio is intrigued, while Guillermo is, rightfully, having none of this. Wong is definitely having a lot of fun here with a “zapa-de-do” here and a “car-cass” there. After much delay, the revival process gets going, only for Wallace to immediately fall prey to the distraction of a text in the middle of it. It appears that necromancers can also be distracted by a notification. With such a lack of focus, it’s no wonder the reanimation procedure didn’t go exactly as planned.
Nadja and Laszlo have Topher back — that is, if what they really wanted was a screaming, bile-spewing conscious zombie/vampire hybrid who can’t stop crawling on the walls. Hearing noises downstairs, Guillermo confronts the reanimated mess that was once Topher in a pretty well-staged fight sequence that follows them from smashing through a second story window to clashing on the edge of the library balcony, and back to the pond. It appears that Topher has the upper hand until Nandor, in a rare act of altruism, rescues Guillermo from drowning, finishing the fresh zombie with a neck snap….until he gets right back up again…and again. He’s Brooke-Shields-in-“Freaked” levels of hard to kill.
Wallace doesn’t believe in issuing refunds, yet is proud to extend the offer for them to each grab a novelty NY license plate keychain for their troubles, an offer they take him up on with literally no hesitation or concern for the $350. Topher is relegated to Wallace’s underground sweatshop while Guillermo reflects positively on his master’s act of selflessness. That doesn’t mean he can’t still be prepared with carved stakes hidden in his mini-fridge (located across from the Yoo-hoo) for, you know, just in case. A fun, simple start to the season, overall.
Episode 2 – “Ghosts” (dir. Kyle Newacheck)
Laszlo finds himself spooked when items throughout his room start stacking themselves whenever his back is turned. Initially placing blame on Guillermo, Nadja deduces that this is the work of ghosts, much to the dismissal of Nandor, Colin and Laszlo. Guillermo easily demolishes their mindset, considering vampires, werewolves, necromancers, zombies and even a Babadook exist, yet they believe ghosts are the stuff of fairy tales.
Nadja proposes a séance, and it isn’t long before she becomes annoyed by the (admittedly funny) fart jokes made at her expense. Stepping outside, she comes in contact with the hazy blue apparition of Jeff, still clothed in the motorcycle outfit from when he was accidentally beheaded by Laszlo’s razor-sharp wire. Laszlo keeps his cool upon seeing Jeff, only to hurry back inside the house in a panicked frenzy, riling up Nandor as well. I love that they both rush Jeff with weapons, only to cowardly flee down the street when he takes the form of a creature straight out of “The Thing.” It’s a really intricate design for a throwaway gag, and the VFX artists deserve the accolades.
Nandor, Nadja and Laszlo, posing the question of whether they have their own spirits, come face-to-face with the ghostly versions of themselves prior to their death. Considering most of them were turned into vampires with a life ahead of them, each spirit has their own bit of unfinished business before they can truly move on.
A language barrier prohibits Nandor from verbally communicating with his ghost, yet soon realizes that his unfulfillment comes from being unable to make amends with his horse, John, for eating him centuries ago. Laszlo, on the other hand, is tasked with ‘satisfying’ his ghost self, as he was on the verge of climaxing before Nadja turned him. You may not see the sticky act transpire but you know what they say — the ectoplasm is on the walls…and the carpet, and the ceiling.
Ghost Nadja, at first, scolds her bloodsucking counterpart for what she’s made of herself. It doesn’t take long, however, until the two start laughing and getting along. In Nadja’s case, it goes to prove that sometimes you are your own best friend. In that case, ghost Nadja transfers her spirit to a doll in the basement so she can stay, even helping vampire Nadja get rid of ghost Jeff who just won’t leave. And I cannot wait to see how this plays into future episodes!
A running joke throughout the episode features Colin trying out a new tactic of draining energy through lame jokes, compelling him to ask everyone if they have any ‘updog.’ No one gives him the satisfaction. It takes a hilariously mean-spirited method to get the reaction he wants: Colin fronts a last-ditch effort by conjuring the spirit of his grandmother, excited to talk with him, and immediately discarding her after delivering his well-deserved punchline.
- Nadja and Laszlo are totally low-balling the number of dead familiars. No way it’s only 10.
- I can’t even imagine what Joey did to find himself reaching THAT kind of demise.
- No one stress-shines shoes like a flustered Guillermo.
- “Please be respectful of his mud.”
- Zombie Topher totally pulls a “Deadly Prey” with his dismembered arm.
- ‘Condom’ is the new ‘Bort.’
- I feel seen by Colin’s extensive lengths for a dad joke.
- “Nandor, there’s a f****ing ghost on the front lawn!” – an appropriate reaction
- “Who is that tasty little piece of hummus?”
Did you think this was a worthy start to the season?
You can catch “What We Do in the Shadows” on Wednesday nights at 10/9c on FX. And you’ll find weekly recaps right here on Shuffle Online following each episode.
Until then, bloodsuckers, sleep tight in your musty coffins — and cross your fingers Guillermo isn’t waiting outside with a freshly carved stake.
Matt graduated from Keene State College in 2017 with a Bachelor’s in Critical Film Studies. A few of his favorite films include “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Army of Darkness,” “Before Sunrise” and “Certain Women.” Having already contributed to Bloody Disgusting, ELF Magazine and The Simple Cinephile, Matt aspires to expand and continue writing with various outlets. If there’s any chance to talk about horror films and/or Twin Peaks, he’ll very much jump at the opportunity.