What We Do in the Shadows Episode 2 Review: City Council

The vampires take their case for world domination to local leaders of Staten Island on What We Do in the Shadows' episode 2, "City Council."

This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.

What We Do in the Shadows Episode 2

The What We Do in the Shadows vampires aren’t so long in the tooth they can’t open with age old humor. The first gag has the vampires bitching to Nandor’s (Kayvan Novak) familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) about having to walk everywhere until Laszlo (Matt Berry) decides he has enough, turns into a bat and flies off. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) tells the assorted ambulists the impatient vampire will be back because he doesn’t have the address, and before the last word comes out of her mouth, her vampire lover is back admitting he didn’t know where to go. It’s the kind of joke that would have worked on Get Smart in the 1960s, aided by the surrealistic abilities of the subjects in the documentary.

This scene comes right before one which wouldn’t have gotten past the censors of swinging sixties TV. Baron Afanas (Doug Jones) charged the vampires with taking over the new world once they hit the shores and garbage heaps of Staten Island. Nandor says he has no recollection of the dictum, but both Nadja and Laszlo remember the ancient vampire gave them the instructions right at the moment of sexual climax. And not just any sexual climax, he saves the directive for  the one where he pays particular attention to the sweet spot. Who can remember directives under such circumstances?

Afanas can provide a wonderful punch line for any circumstance: When Nandor talks about the challenges of the visiting dignitary, the series cuts to a very dramatic rendering of the ancient bloodsucker at his most viscerally frightening. When the characters talk about his sexual prowess, Nadja notes it is his lack of genitalia, which makes him so good at it. He devours familiars and causes general unrest, and only Nadja appears to be brave enough to talk behind his back. There is no behind the back of such a creature, of course, especially as Afanas’s familiar is such a stealth bomb. She is almost as annoying as Guillermo when it comes to always being around.

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The casual disregard Nandor shows to Guillermo in all things is wonderfully tickling. He tells his familiar not to spook virgins with his strange accent, although the servant speaks with a local flavor he was born with and the vampire’s dialect is obviously far more problematic. Nandor is constantly making excuses for his human friend/slave, telling him to be quiet because vampires obviously have more knowledge than people even as their frames of reference are so obviously outdated.

Mark Proksch is understatedly hysterical as Colin Robinson. His endless prattle aims towards a distracting and annoying boredom but his delivery makes it laugh out loud funny. Every run on sentence becomes a running joke. He breaks down the waling part of day-walking to the point where the vampires, once again, turn into bats and fly off. Knowing they will never find the destination by themselves the perch themselves atop the crosstown bus rather than listen to one more word coming out of this mouth. He’s absolutely perfect for the Staten Island Borough Council Monthly Zoning Ordinance Meeting a smorgasbord of banality and despair.

further reading: What We Do in the Shadows Cast Talks About the Vampire Life

Colin teaches the vampires how to address the Staten Island City Council by example, droning on about zoning issues until he has drained each of them of energy. As he leaves the podium, Colin turns to the camera to let the audience know just how filling the encounter was for him. Nandor then takes the stand to make what appears to him to be simple demands: a dome which keeps out sunlight, an idea he may have borrowed from Stephen King’s novel The Dome, but can be also be attributed to the equally relentless Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons whose nemesis was also the sun. The vampires came up with a list of demands, like requesting silence during daytime hours, an all-vampire TV channel, the voluntary destruction by churches of all crucifixes, and a nun-free zone, where vampires can honestly answer none when asked how many nuns there are in the area. They are told the council will take it under advisement, but it’s not an idea well suited for the zoning law commission. They are told to come back in a few months when the council holds its general assembly.  Nandor says he will be thrilled to return.

One of the most effective gag reflexes come from the matter-of-fact way the show deals with the enhanced abilities of the vampire. At one point Nandor puts local politician Doug Peterson under his sway. His delivery as he gives commands flourishes with grandeur. But at its end the man simply says  “okay.” Later as Nandor calls to Doug Peterson through the ethers, he asks if the man can you hear him. When Doug says yes, Nandor says “great, how are you doing?”

The vampires are out of touch with the world around them, clueless to the effects their actions have, even when they have the best intentions. This is most hilariously evident when Laszlo solves the local raccoon problem. After offering to remove any stone in the shoe of the head of the Staten Island city council, something which has more weight because he has mistaken concerns about her Achilles Heel, she complains about the vermin in her garbage. Laszlo sets about on the task of eradication. First he tries reasoning with the creatures, only to be rewarded with a bite. He displays the quick-healing powers of the undead and does a Pied Piper of Hamlin turn, summoning all the raccoons in the neighborhood with music. He then deposits the carcasses on her stoop, much like a cat leaves dead mice to show how much they appreciate their owners. The lady doesn’t see it that way of course. She opens the next assembly meeting recounting the horrors of what was left on her porch. Is this the work of a local gang? Some kind of psycho in town? Laszlo can’t understand why she didn’t take it as the gift he intended. It’s a good thing he wiped her memory of his original offer.

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further reading: What We Do in the Shadows Series Drops Clips

Nandor is far more successful, but no less skewed, in his devious divide-and-conquer effort. He does indeed get through to the banal subconscious of the council member wanting to move to the top spot. He subjugates Doug Peterson, who does the bidding, laying out the warning of the coming vampire takeover. But Doug causes enough of a scene in the hallowed halls to be forcibly take away, much to the pleasure of the energy sucking Colin, who can’t stand up because all the energies went straight to his groin.

Nadja takes pity on the most virginal of the virgin LARPers, a mousy young college student who finds sexual excitement in every unexpected intrusion. The episode ends with the projectile vomit of a soon-to-be ex-person. What We Do in the Shadows‘ “City Council” continues to lampoon the vampire mythology and the subculture which rose out of it with toothy enthusiasm and sanguine satire.

 “City Council” was written by Paul Simms, and directed by Jemaine Clement.

What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays on FX.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFKRead more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.

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4 out of 5