This review originally published June 30, 2022.
Four seasons in, What We Do in the Shadows, FX’s vampire mockumentary from the mind of Jemaine Clement, is still one of TV’s best comedies. Through the first four episodes of the new season for review, the show effortlessly flexes and reframes its scope, tightly following its protagonists on their shared journey. The show feels somehow more intimate than (and just as vulgar as) before, as the characters’ uneven relationship with change and growth provides new opportunities for intentional and offhanded shenanigans in a story where, for once, all their motivation comes from their own wants and desire rather than pressures from outside their Staten Island residence. The jokes are still raunchy, the protagonists are still self-assured in their wit despite frequent ignorance, and the actors feel engaged and alive in their undead roles, keeping the show vibrant and laying the groundwork for the already-renewed seasons to come.
While Season 4 premieres eight months after the Season 3 finale, the plot of What We Do in the Shadows picks up after a one-year gap. Lazlo (Matt Berry) is in Staten Island letting the manor fall apart while raising the energy vampire child who burst from the chest of Colin Robinson (Mark Proschk), who he calls “Boy” in hopes of distinguishing him from his late friend. Lazlo wants him to be a much more interesting man, perhaps forgetting how energy vampires operate (he has mentioned he has much to learn about them, and I suspect surrogate fatherhood will teach him a lot). So, Lazlo trains the boy in things like fencing, burglary, and classical literature, in addition to using shock therapy, phrenology, and feeding him cereal out of a dog bowl, to mixed success. Nadja (Natasia Dimetriou) and the doll containing her soul have returned from England after butting heads with the low-level planning committee she was assigned to by the Supreme Vampiric Council. Apparently starting a vampire nightclub is something all new vampires want to do when they make it to the central bureaucracy, but not something the council is interested in.
Meanwhile, despite gaps in his emotional intelligence and general reasoning, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is pursuing romance while showing more appreciation for his vampire hunter-descended familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who is again the only reason the whole household doesn’t physically and logistically collapse. The Guide (Kirsten Schaal) has become a series regular, accompanied by her wraiths as she navigates her own psychology with Lazlo and workplace labor issues with Nadja.
The series continues to include other non-vampiric monsters integrated into hidden alcoves and enclaves in modern society, such as an lawyerly/accountant-like djinn that Nandor discovers in a lamp among his treasures, and the myriad and sundry bartering mythical creatures at the Night Market. What We Do in the Shadows subtly builds out a dark fantasy world intersecting with the main characters’ misadventures with mundanity. This is where guest stars come in and where we get to see the creative interpretation of fables and fantasy, as well as the aged vampires setting the record straight on some popular ideas about contemporary interpretations of magical creatures—mainly Lazlo bursting Boy-Colin Robinsons’s bubble about fairies and fairy tales.
(Speaking of creatures, Boy-Colin Robinson’s reincarnation is a bit of a CGI ghoul to look at—whether that’s a budgetary or technological constraint or is partially intended is rather immaterial, because the character is supposed to freak you out. And, somehow, he also manages to be occasionally endearing in the way quirky, annoying children can sometimes be.)
It might have been nice to see the vampires split among their travels—in Europe, the Middle East, and Staten Island—for a brief period, but the show succeeds while reuniting them. And the tools used to tell the stories of the storyline gap between seasons are funny and evocative. Lazlo’s quest to raise miniature Colin Robinson is an excellent thread that intersects with Nadja’s journey, while Guillermo is trying to support Nandor’s pursuit of love and fill gaps in Laszlo’s priorities for raising a functioning humanoid. Of course, this interferes with Guillermo’s personal pursuit of a life for himself, with small hints laid as to how that might explode later. He might not have everything figured out yet, but it’s become apparent that he knows his worth.
So far, the stakes aren’t as high as a supreme vampire coming to see why they haven’t taken over America yet, and though Guillermo’s genetic predisposition for vampire murder does show up in fun ways in multiple episodes, it isn’t something they’re obsessing over again. Neither does the team seem to be too worried about running the regional vampiric council, though that also seems likely to be something that could pay off later. As it stands, the show remains charming and funny through its mix of dry and blue humor, with the sheer mass of jokes and the relative self-centered nature of the characters combining to remind me just a bit of Archer before it got bad.
What We Do in the Shadows has always excelled in leveraging its unique blend of absurdist comedy and emotional payoff, and Season 4 is no different. The new episodes seem sure to please returning fans and entice those looking to start their journey. And, since it’s an FX-on-Hulu show, it’s easy to catch up on some of the best television around—vampiric or comedic—before the premiere. I’m certainly going to cram in rewatching as much of the past three seasons as I can in celebration of its return. In fact, gotta run… BAT!
What We Do in the Shadows Season 4 premieres Tuesday, July 12th on FX (and will stream on Hulu the next day).
Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer with an MA in history, who loves videogames, film, TV, and sports, and dreams of liberation. He can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.
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