This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 Episode 1
Good help is hard to find. It’s an eternal problem, and What We Do in the Shadows‘ season 2 premiere scours the want ads for unwanted undead fans. The Staten Island vampires closed last season by pissing off the Vampire Council by accidentally torching Baron Afanas (Doug Jones), and they need all the help they can get.
The series really finds its rhythm in season 2, both stylistically and uncharacteristically. “Resurrection” mainly focuses on Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry) looking for their own familiar. For those just tuning in, a familiar basically does a vampires’ bidding, but is not necessarily like Renfield in Dracula. One of the best segments in the episode is an early montage showing the ultimately fatal mishaps which befell early applicants. It is pure cartoon slapstick only with a lot more blood than you might see on a “Coyote and Roadrunner” short. The giggles start early, but culminate with a serene Nadja saving curtains and talking to the camera while her latest familiar flails around in flames in the background.
What We Do in the Shadows excels in “what we do in the background” moments. Perfectly fine comedy performances are enhanced by being upstaged. Most actors hate being upstaged. Here the performances thrive on it. The show is a mock-documentary of these people’s lives. It’s basically an unreality show, so they do a lot of soliloquies with clips interspersed to visually highlight what’s being said. From historical graphics which shortcut some slaughter Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is reminiscing over to the flash sequences of how many kills Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) registered in season 1, each bit like this is perfection. The style is its own running gag.
The series is based on a feature film by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and fans of the movie occasionally say the small screen counterpart doesn’t measure up, but the second season grounds this in television even as it grinds a horror movie icon into a comic performer extraordinaire. Haley Joel Osment, who played the kid who saw dead people in Sixth Sense, is the center of attention for the undead. His Topher takes a Homer Simpson approach to his familiarity, though, doing the least work possible with the most visibility. He ultimately becomes What We Do in the Shadows‘ Frank Grimes, whose sole appearance as a guest character on The Simpsons was one of its darkest, as Topher is relegated to a sweatshop used-zombie pile after he gets electrocuted doing one of the few simple tasks he deigns to.
Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) oversees the burial, but does not give closure, so even the mud is dug up as Topher’s remains are brought over to a local necromancer friend of Nadja’s. This is not the same necromancer Laszlo Cravensworth used last year to get his witch skin hat reblocked. He worked out of a store called Compact Disc Town. Nadja’s necromancer Wallace has a cabin in the expansive woods of Staten Island. Nandor gets to exhibit his steadfast nature, taking a shine to a personalized license plate-key ring. It would be perfect for someone named Steve, and every time he says Steve it becomes more delicious. We just know he’s going to go home with a gift for this unknown person who carries such a pleasant sounding name.
The actual necromancy ceremony is exquisitely twisted. First, the personal object the vampires choose for Topher to come back for is his minifridge. Then we learn the importance of the fee. And then the scatting begins. Zibbidee zow, and the newly dead helper is dancing a jig. And he keeps on going. So long that Guillermo ultimately has to leave him hanging. Osment looks like he’s having a blast, slobbering all over Guillermo’s attempts at overkill. The resurrected like to stay erect, and Nandor speaks for everyone when he says “what’s with this fucking guy.” Kayvan Novak never loses unfocused focus, the ennui of endless life left lasting damage. But he has a keen eye for the most obvious, and some of his observations undermine everything we’ve taken for granted in horror entertainment.
For ancient creatures, these vampires seem to have learned nothing after centuries of experience, and have only retained the most shallow of memories. At one point Laszlo is lauding Topher’s credentials. He doesn’t know what they mean, but they sound good. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) never forgets a good disemboweling. Oh how they laugh over the ways some of those crazy familiars went out. Nandor doesn’t even wait for Guillermo’s ultimate fate. He jokes about dead Guillermos right to his familiar’s face. His casual disregard for the feelings he tramples is a comic gift which keeps giving.
Colin Robinson never felt a feeling he couldn’t swallow. The energy vampire doesn’t have much to do in the opening episode, but his subtle charm is irresistible and the glee in his eyes during the Lincoln Tunnel scene is worth the toll. He can’t quite get a feed on the entrepreneurial Topher but loves the idea of endlessly repeating sales pitches to disinterested clients.
The special effects consistently add to the laughs, but sometimes the most simple of effects carry true menace. Nandor snaps a neck and tosses a body aside just so he can have some peace and quiet and it registers a second later what a lethal guy he is. That is, until the lethal wears off and he has to try another method of dispatch. The climbing-up-the-wall effect, however, is the most visually funny gag in the episode. It’s a little scary, but you don’t notice from giggling.
“Resurrection” is a great way to bring the vampires back for What We Do in the Shadows season 2. It is how all vampires are born, and subtly nudges the mythology of the undead past the dreaded garlic of TV cancellations. The episode moves very quickly as the pace of the laughs remains as relentless as Nandor.