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What We Do In The Shadows returns, with teeth – The A.V. Club

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Photo: Russ Martin/FX

Last we left What We Do In The Shadows’ core quartet of Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin Robinson, they had just escaped a second, final death at the hands of the Vampiric Council. The only reason any of these immortal ding-dongs are still able to stalk Staten Island is because Guillermo de la Cruz, the great-great-great-whatever of world-famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, swooped in at the last second to save their undead lives. So they must be grateful, right? And the Vampiric Council must be dead set* on finally bringing them to justice? Don’t be silly! As so often happens in real life, on What We Do In The Shadows good deeds go unrecognized and the most clueless and entitled among us fall upwards into positions of power. In other words—congratulations to the vampires on their promotion!

We pick up 29 days after the events of the season two finale, as Laszlo, Nadja, Nandor, and Colin try to figure out what they’re going to do with Guillermo, who they’ve locked up in a cage in the basement that’s very Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs. It should come as no surprise that Nadja, Laszlo, and creepy doll Nadja all think Guillermo should die. They’re vampires—or the ghost of a vampire, as the case may be—he’s a vampire hunter, end of story. But Nandor was a warrior before he was a vampire, which means he takes blood debts very seriously. And he owes Guillermo for saving his life. (Plus, as we’ve established, he loves Guillermo, in his own way.) And so, by the end of the episode, Guillermo is out of his cage and he’s doing just fine (sorry), having been bumped up from familiar to bodyguard. With last season’s storyline thus wrapped up, it’s time for a new season-long arc. (Re-)enter Kristen Schaal as the Floating Woman, a.k.a. The Guide, now forced to do the vampires’ bidding as they take over the Vampiric Council of the Eastern Seaboard of the New World.

Things have changed between the characters as this new status quo is established, however. Although obviously it’s going to take a while for Guillermo to get over his self-proclaimed “codependent” tendencies, there’s been a change in the character’s demeanor. His eye rolls are more frequent, his jokes are more sarcastic, and he seems less afraid of the vampires than he used to be—and with good reason. They should be fearing him. In the first two episodes of season three, most of the show’s leads carve a deeper groove in terms of their characters’ personalities: Laszlo is crankier than ever, Nadja more bloodthirsty, Nandor more melancholy, Colin more chaotic. But while the show is slowing down his transformation by (at least superficially) restoring the master/servant dynamic between the vampires and Guillermo, his character is still in flux.

There’s still a distance between Guillermo and Nandor as well, and Nandor’s loneliness leads to the central gag of episode two. A 24-hour gym is a brilliant setting for a What We Do In The Shadows episode—kudos to this show for, once again, coming up with novel variations on the vampire theme—but what stood out the most to me was the way “The Cloak Of Duplication” used character-based comedy to satirize male entitlement. Colin’s insults, Laszlo’s pickup lines, Nandor’s pathetic projection: Each of them takes a different, equally noxious approach to talking to a woman they don’t know. And the guys’ blind confidence that “she must not like men” is a pretty good punchline, until it comes back around and becomes a very good punchline at the end of the episode.

Image for article titled What We Do In The Shadows returns, with teeth

Photo: FX

Meanwhile, Nadja is proving herself to be more fearsome than Nandor the Relentless, who I have trouble believing took such a gentle approach to dissenters back in the 13th century. Nadja is a survivor as well, however, and she’s proud to step on anyone who gets in her way. As she puts it, “that’s how you are the only one who survives out of 17 children.” All the way back in season one, Nadja turning Beanie Feldstein’s Jenna into a vampire told us a lot about the way Nadja sees the world, both her desire for personal power—what better way to show dominance over someone than by cursing them with immortality?—and her belief in female supremacy. Now she and Nandor are battling for control of the council, and with Nandor weak, the hour of Nadja’s feminist takeover may finally be at hand. Laszlo, who was also turned into a vampire by Nadja centuries ago, certainly seems content (or maybe resigned?) to hang out in his musty porno cave and let her run things her way.

Another standout element of this first batch of new episodes is what appears to be a bigger budget for VFX and set design. (That’s what an Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy gets you!) I’d have to go back to previous seasons and see if the main rooms in the vampires’ mansion have been redecorated, but Laszlo and Nadja’s chambers have definitely been upgraded with a drum kit and some new wallpaper depicting what appears to be a Bacchanalian rite. (Sexy!) The new sets inside the Vampiric Council headquarters are also impressive—decorating the Chamber of Curiosities must have been a dream job for some lucky Canadian oddities enthusiast—and with more Victorian-style settings to choose from, modern settings like the gym stand out even more.

“The Prisoner” keeps the vampires together for a plot-driven group episode, as befits a season premiere; “The Cloak Of Duplication” is a looser, more character-based half hour of comedy, one that slips into cartoon territory when it dubs different cast members’ voices over Kayvan Novak’s body. Both episodes are sharply written, combining cutting satire—whether it be about incompetent bosses or squabbling hipsters—with silly jokes about penises and poop and lots of profanity. What We Do In The Shadows successfully kept its momentum going with a focused, character-driven arc in its second season, and while the characters are still jockeying for power in these first two episodes of season three, there’s a relaxed confidence to the writing and performances that comes with not just living up to expectations, but exceeding them.

*pun intended

  • Human beings can actually digest raw—or at least semi-raw—chicken, provided that it’s slaughtered, stored, and prepared under perfectly sterile conditions (i.e., not in a mini-fridge in a dank basement).
  • The vampires may be right in never progressing past the VCR. Everything started to go downhill when iPods came on the scene.
  • Speaking of—this week’s wordplay award goes to Kristen Schaal spelling out “VCR.” (If I had to transliterate it: “Veyh Schey Ahyr.”) She’s followed very closely by Natasia Demetriou making trilling, birdlike affirmative noises when the vampires tell Guillermo his fate.
  • Fans of Matt Berry’s euphonious voice didn’t have to go without this week, however, thanks to the five-part series of Knobnomicon, Gutenberg’s Vaginarium, de Tocqueville Lusty Discharge Pamphlet, Egypt’s Largest Penises, and Roy Cohn Esquire’s 169 Sex Positions.
  • The latex glove Laszlo wears whilst perusing esoteric pornographies was a nice detail, as was the blood Chemex in the Queens hipster vampires’ apartment.
  • In case you had any doubts about whether Colin Robinson was secretly the biggest freak out of all of them, we’ve got Colin practically licking his lips talking about Guillermo’s “stinky pickles.”
  • “I didn’t become a vampire to end up a pen-pushing bureaucrat. I became a vampire to suck blood and fuck forever!”
  • Was Laszlo trying to do an accent when he wore the Cloak of Duplication, or was that not Matt Berry doing the voiceover? His voice sounded…different.
  • The song that plays over the end credits of episode one, “King Of The Nighttime World,” is most famously performed by KISS. But the show uses the 1974 original by The Hollywood Stars, which I also prefer to the KISS version.

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