'What We Do in the Shadows' Season 2: TV Review

An already great series smartly reinvents itself.
4/15/2020

FX's vampire mockumentary returns for a second season of genre-savvy comedy.

In the musty, airless manor where most of FX's What We Do in the Shadows takes place, a sole forsaken entity stands capable of change. Naturally, it isn't the vampires — indolent Nandor (Kayvan Novak), sex-obsessed Laszlo (Matt Berry), romance-preoccupied Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) — whose eternal self-satisfaction has petrified them in a kind of existential amber. Nor is it the life-sappingly dull Colin (Mark Proksch), an "energy vampire" who, despite no outward signs of otherworldliness, is governed just as much as his peers and housemates by fixed needs and regular feedings.

That leaves Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the one human in the bunch. At the end of season one, portly, bespectacled Guillermo, who's dedicated a decade of his life to serving as Nandor's familiar in the hopes of being turned into a bloodsucker himself one day, discovered that fate has played a cruel joke on him. With famed vampire hunter Van Helsing in his bloodline, Guillermo is more likely to kill the undead than to become one himself.

The premise of What We Do in the Shadows — of powerful, immortal monsters lulled into complacency by mollycoddling and nostalgic memories of their once fearsome and sexy selves — brims with so much potential that it hardly needs development. Boasting one of the best comedy casts currently on the air, the TV adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's 2014 mockumentary film would have been perfectly enjoyable if it had merely continued exposing the chasm between its vampire characters' epic self-conceptions and their Staten Island realities.

But season two builds on its predecessor — and goes where few vampire tales have gone before — by having Guillermo explore, however reluctantly, his inborn knack for Buffy-esque carnage. Colin might be What We Do in the Shadows' most original character, but Guillermo, who may well have supplanted the vampires as the house's most formidable being, has become the series' wild card.

It's unclear, though, if Guillermo has yet realized that reversal of roles (at least in the four episodes for review). The dramatic irony adds a tense satisfaction to every scene in which the familiar's resentment builds against his master and their two mooching roommates — and that's before Guillermo stumbles into a group of vampire hunters and easily bests everyone there (including guest star Craig Robinson) in staking cape-wearing leeches in the heart.

Perhaps most unexpectedly, Guillermo gains something of a conscience, as he sees the havoc his masters are able to wreak from the vampire hunters' point of view. Killing people is at least a matter of survival for vampires. But in a short period of time, Nandor and company catastrophically, irretrievably and unnecessarily screw up the lives of a pair of individuals out of minor convenience. Even by the standards of the undead, it's pretty bleak.

Season two also expands the What We Do in the Shadows world in a sillier, if just as genre-savvy, way: by introducing bloodsuckers' relationships to other supernatural beings. After giving us its version of the rivalry between vamps and werewolves last year, the sophomore season broaches zombies, Bloody Mary and, most interestingly, ghosts. (Hilariously, most of the vampires profess that they don't believe in poltergeists until they're confronted with incontrovertible proof.) In the second episode (the best of this batch), Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja summon the wraith versions of themselves to see if they have any unfinished business they can help wrap up. It's the most we learn about the vampires in a while — and might mean a new long-term resident in the house.

What We Do in the Shadows settles back into its familiar rhythms by the third episode, when the bloodsuckers attend a Superb Owl party at the house next door. (It's actually a Super Bowl party, but the vampires refuse to listen to Guillermo's clarification.) "You are all such strong, beautiful, vicious, vibrant women," Nadja marvels at the wives huddled in the kitchen. "How did you end up married to such boiled potatoes?" It's a question Nadja could ask herself. If only she could see herself clearly again. 

Cast: Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch
Creator: Jemaine Clement
Showrunners: Jemaine Clement, Paul Simms
Premieres: Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET/PT (FX)