This What We Do in the Shadows review contains no spoilers.
In keeping with the unique traditions which the show follows, What We Do in the Shadows season 5 picks up where the series left off. How much we remember might depend on the vampire hypnosis of Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), whose vampire club Nadja’s bled out by the conclusion. As is their fashion, the major problems of the previous season were taken care of with the doting natural nurturing of Baby Colin Robinson (Mark Proksh), who grew to the energy draining monster he was always destined to be, while new arcs are introduced. The finale concluded with Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) approaching Vampire Derek (Chris Sandiford) for a transformational transfusion.
In season 5, we learn one of the greatest insults a vampire can face is if their familiar is made into a vampire by the blood of another vampire. It’s a real insult which goes back generations, and it is well-established that Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is not one to take such slights lightly. His growing awareness of a change in household dynamics makes for grandly subtle comic moments, while consistently adding to the underlying suspense. Novak is at his best when unsuccessfully hiding Nandor’s motivations and vulnerabilities. His embrace of the self-improvement book I’m OK, You’re OK is more than okay. Keeping to its tenets, however, promises far greater possibilities yet to come. His perceived loss of status sends Nandor literally out of this world.
Guillermo is also renowned for a pronounced inability to cloak his untruths. It is still surprising he gets away with embezzling the money from the vampire club to pay Derek at the end of season 4. “I feel like embezzling is such a harsh word,” Guillén tells Den of Geek. “He realized what he was owed for over a decade of servitude without payment. Sometimes you take matters to your own hands. Nadja was doing the exact same thing at the same time, and no one blinked an eye. I think he has played goody-two-shoes for too long.”
In his ultimate break from the obedient familiar role, Guillermo is a resolutely bad liar. While his condition affords the series to explore the comic possibilities of special effects makeup, the duplicity provides more malevolent mirth. This devolves into further malignancy when Laszlo (Matt Berry) begins to probe. His experiments into Guillermo’s secret change of nature uncover a wealth of vampire-myth nuggets. The scientific process of elimination adds up to a wondrous segment on testing whether vampires are truly compelled to count grains of rice if spilled in their path. Laszlo proves each vampiric legend wrong, if only to himself. It is a rising gag that doesn’t overstay its welcome. The same can’t be said about how this very same scientific gaze alienates his love Nadja, and her newfound community roots.
The Guide (Kristen Schaal) diagnoses Nadja with a supernatural hex, which is much different from a curse. Curses are laughable, hexes are funny, and the vampires know funny. Schaal is now in the opening credits, but The Guide is still a mere acquaintance to the other vampires. She is not an insider or a friend, and she still learns things on a need-to-know basis. Usually after those things have grown beyond need to imperative necessity. For much of the season, The Guide attempts to fit in as the relative newcomer to this tightly-knit group who’ve known each other for centuries. Her many frustrations spark minor hilarity. To the group, she is a vampire bureaucrat they’d prefer filed away. The callous invisibility is draining in ways a major segment of the audience can savor.
Colin continues his arc as the Kramer of What We Do in the Shadows, moving from one dead-end job to the next. His interpretation of the most annoying waiter in a city filled with such wait staff makes for a wave of disinterested chuckles. Colin also runs for political office for a short term, before getting bored with it. Politics do make for some strange bedfellows, and one of the stranger recurring guest actors makes a welcome return, and sucks all the air out of the room.
Demetriou’s secondary character, Doll With the Spirit of Deceased Human Nadja Inhabiting It, has her own tragicomic arc over the course of the season. Horribly disfigured during an off-camera moment when Nadja was tipsy from binge-drinking the blood of drunk club patrons, Doll With the Spirit of Deceased Human Nadja Inhabiting It also wants to make up for past slights, and eternal frustrations. The eternally dolled up vessel of the young innocent woman slayed for brutal rebirth has the same desires as the immortal Nadja, but misses some of the matching parts.
“I find the puppet of the doll just the sweetest, most satisfying thing to interact with,” Demetriou says. “They make her hair the same as mine. She’s got her own little wardrobe rail. Any costume I wear, they’ll make a costume that matches. It’s like a six-year-old fantasy to have a doll with all these incredibly detailed matching clothes.” The childlike surprise catches quite a few laughs in its wide net. An early highlight is reminiscent of the “Take Me to the River”-singing fish mounted for Tony Soprano’s displeasure on The Sopranos.
What We Do in the Shadows season 5 leans into the feature film by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. The vampires continue to have their most monstrous fun in mundane settings. The very first episode, “The Mall,” takes place in a populated retail mecca, complete with Build-a-Bear and a carousel. In the same episode, Nandor hypnotizes an entire sports arena to forget a simple misstep in the stands. The scene is one of the most populated sequences on the show, but only used for a small insert gag.
Based on the first four episodes, What We Do in the Shadows season 5 appears to be doing what it does best: finding the awkward moments that unites vampires and humanity with casual disregard for deeper meaning. For all the effects and supernatural sight gags, the most humorous moments come out of the frightful miscalculated interpretations of the most mundane of current events. This is most plainly evident during a Pride Day parade sequence, which brings out the best beast in everyone.
What We Do in the Shadows season 5 premieres with two episodes on July 13 at 10pm on FX.