What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e07 – The Return

It’s a team episode—or more of one—with Nick Kroll returning from the first season. Kroll was a posh New York vampire who was in love with one of Matt Berry’s hats. Unfortunately, that hat was cursed and Kroll’s having some very bad luck. He’s living in a sewer with one rapping sidekick Mike Dara and another sewer-dwelling vampire sidekick (Christine Ebadi, in some truly icky makeup).

Kroll guilts Berry and Natasia Demetriou—following a hilarious talk about their evening out at the terrible “talkes”—into inviting him over. He’s so anxious to get out of the sewer, he beats them home, with Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén playing reluctant hosts.

There’s some great banter—plus Novak’s harsh assessment of why Guillén’s still a familiar and not a vampire (he’s like the last donut left, everyone’s sure there’s something wrong with it)—before they end up inviting Kroll and company (of course he brought the entourage) to stay the night.

Or day. Whatever.

Unfortunately, Ebadi really wants to eat Guillén and since she’s a hardier vampire than most, she’s not scared to lurk around during the day. They get into a big argument and Guillén’s all of a sudden got to worry about Novak finding out about the whole “vampire slayer” thing.

Meanwhile, Mark Proksch has an amazing subplot about his online trolling activities.

Writer-director-show creator-source movie co-creator Jemaine Clement has a great time with the episode; it feels like he wanted to give Proksch a good solo adventure—the show’s really exploring the energy vampire mythos—while taking advantage of guest star Kroll’s antagonistic chemistry with the rest of the cast. And it moves Guillén’s vampire slayer subplot forward for the first time in quite a few episodes.

It’s kind of overshadowed by the last episode Jackie Daytona peak, but it’s still fantastic.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e06 – On the Run

In addition to being the most Matt Berry episode of “Shadows” ever, this episode also has the best Mark Hamill performance since… 1983? 1980? He’s only in the episode maybe five minutes so it’s hard to compare with the Original Trilogy or Big Red One.

Hamill’s another vampire, one who Berry stiffed for rent on a beach house in San Diego in the late 1800s; Berry had been trying to sell his soul to the Devil to get better at the guitar, but went to the wrong place. Also there was a floater in the toilet, so Berry definitely wasn’t paying. It’s a hilarious argument, leading to a duel, with everyone in the cast getting something to do.

But then Berry runs for it and it becomes his episode. He’s not going to duel, he’s not going to pay the rent, so instead he’s going to pretend to be a human named “Jackie Daytona” and run a bar in rural Pennsylvania. Berry’s beloved by all—well, not the people he’s killed and drained of blood, but everyone else, particularly bar waitress Madeleine Martin. And then the entire town after Berry starts supporting the high school girls’ volley ball team in their quest for the state championship.

There’s a little bit back at the house with everyone dealing with Berry being gone, but mostly it’s an excuse for a great Mark Proksch scene. Natasia Demetriou’s distraught, obviously, and Proksch takes advantage for some great feeding. Kayvan Novak and Harvey Guillén are background the whole episode, with the occasional knowing look from Guillén and a one-liner from Novak. It’s like the show realized Berry can’t really go all out with the main cast; “Shadows” has gradually become Demetriou’s show, with Berry acting as her main support but support. Giving him a side adventure really works out.

Two crises arise in idyllic Pennsylvania however—the town can’t afford to send the volley ball team to state and Hamill has tracked Berry to the area. He doesn’t recognize Berry because of the foolproof human disguise, but Hamill knows he’s close. Great stuff with Hamill and Berry, just great.

The end seems like it might not connect, but then does—Stefani Robinson’s script is outstanding. Nice direction from Yana Gorskaya too.

Hopefully Hamill will be back.

Or just get his own show with the character. They leave him with an excellent setup.

But it’s finally a Berry showcase. Since the first episode, he’s been reining it in so as not to walk off with the show. It’s show much fun to see him not have to worry about it and just let loose. Jackie Daytona indeed.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e05 – Colin’s Promotion

“Shadows” does a full Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) showcase episode this season (much more of a Proksch-centric episode than the one last season when he got a love interest). Last time he had to share with the love interest, this time it’s all Proksch. He gets a promotion at work and discovers the best way to suck the energy out of the room is to be the boss, which has big time consequences for his three vampire roommates, Natasia Demetriou, Kayvan Novak, and Matt Berry. Especially after they get so energy drained they can’t feed anymore.

It’s a process though, as Proksch gets more and more powerful—growing a full head of hair—he becomes able to energy drain his subordinates with just a glance. Some very, very funny sequences. Jemaine Clement directs the episode and they go all out with Proksch getting his effects set pieces; they always go with the punchline for Proksch’s character development, which also makes him the most enigmatic of all the characters on the show.

Meanwhile, Demetriou gets the biggest part in the subplot, which has the vampires redecorating because they’re sick of the paintings they’ve been looking at for two hundred years. We discover Berry created “portrait bombing,” which did take seven hours hundreds of years ago, but is still funny today—great bit. But the drama starts when Demetriou discovers a painting of her village being destroyed (two hundred years before she was born) by a bunch of raiders….

Led by Novak. There’s a development about Harvey Guillén trying to mediate between the two of them—Berry stays out of it (he gets the least to do this episode). Guillén’s vampire hunter subplot also doesn’t get continued here—it gets an almost mention—but once things get going big enough for Proksch, the action goes to him. Including the other vampires’ plot lines. Paintings and medieval conquests can’t compete with an all powerful energy vampire.

Lots of great dialogue from Shana Gohd, lots of great one-liners. Novak begging people to put their necks in his mouth—when he’s at his most energy drained—is particularly hilarious.

But it’s Proksch’s episode and a great showcase of him.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e04 – The Curse

So, remember last time when I was worried about Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) and his subplot with the vampire hunters and then said I shouldn’t be worried about it because I should just trust in “Shadows”?

I was right, I shouldn’t be worried about it. This episode’s Guillén subplot has him now trying to infiltrate the vampire hunters to foil their plans but instead finds them ready to head out on their first hunt. Veronika Slowikowska has figured out the house where the vampires who turned her friend last season and they’ve got vagina-shaped topiaries and Guillén’s now got to warn his vampires about the impending threat.

Except the vampires are all busy with the Internet. The episode starts with Guillén setting Kayvan Novak with a laptop to check his email—Novak showing off his prized mail communications is absolutely adorable—except when Novak finds an old email forwarding chain letter cursing him unless he sends it on… well, it causes quite the panic in the house.

So you get Novak, Matt Berry, and Natasia Demetriou freaking out about how to beat this curse–with some questionable help from Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), who seems to understand there’s not an actual curse but also wants in on the email chain so he can make his coworkers miserable—while Guillén’s trying to sabotage the in-progress vampire hunt.

Lots and lots of good laughs, including some tangents like Proksch going on and on about Sandra Bullock movies. The stuff with the vampire hunters once they start their attack is great, as the show’s documentary camera captures more than the characters realize around them. Plus it’s just a really good people who don’t understand the Internet at all with the “What We Do in the Shadows” vampires; it writes itself. Actually, it doesn’t; Sarah Naftalis’s script is excellent. But the vampires and the Internet stuff is wonderful concept wonderfully realized.

The only disappointing part is the Demetriou’s doll. The doll’s only in it for an interview.

But I’m very sorry I doubted “What We Do in the Shadows”; they definitely know what they’re doing with Guillén.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e03 – Brain Scramblies

This episode leaves me with grave concerns—no pun—over Harvey Guillén’s continuing vampire hunter storyline. Vampire familiar Guillén has not only learned he’s a Van Helsing, he’s also proven himself a master vampire hunter already—killing off the Nosferatu sent after his familiar and his housemates. This episode has him meeting a team of would be vampire hunters (led by Craig Robinson, who it is nice to see but it feels like assurance stunt casting) and bonding with them. Including returning Veronika Slowikowska, who was a bit player last season as Beanie Feldstein’s friend; Slowikowska saw Feldstein slowly turn into a vampire… and this season Feldstein’s way too busy to guest on “What We Do” so Slowikowska.

Given the rest of the episode is consistently laugh out loud and need to catch your breath funny, I “trust” the show not to be messing up with the vampire hunters thing… but I’m still concerned. I don’t see how they can pull it off.

The rest of the episode is Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, and Mark Proksch going over to the neighbors’ Super Bowl party. Except the vampires (not energy vampire Proksch) think it’s a Superb Owl party. They’re big fans of owls. It’s already hilarious before they get to the neighbors’ and then it just gets funnier and funnier.

While Demetriou hangs out in the kitchen with the wives, astounded how “strong, beautiful, vicious, vibrant” mortal women end up married to such “boiled potatoes.” In particular she’s talking about hosts Anthony Atamanuik and Marissa Jaret Winokur. The arc with Winokur soon includes Atamanuik’s elderly mother, Sondra James, who Demetriou played with when James was a child, and it’s absolutely hilarious, giving Demetriou a full range to play. It’s her episode.

Meanwhile, Berry and Novak manage to scramble Atamanuik’s brains with over-hypnosis and need to fix him. Their arc’s funny too, with some breath-stoppers, but nothing compared to Demetriou’s.

Plus Proksch feeding off sports bros.

It’s a fantastic episode. If the Guillén stuff weren’t eh, it’d probably be the series best.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e02 – Ghosts

Ghosts is a very well-balanced “What We Do in the Shadows,” meaning all three vampires—Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou—get their own showcases and there’s some left over for Mark Proksch’s energy vampire. Not a lot for Harvey Guillén, but he got last episode.

The episode starts with the household discovering they’ve got ghosts. Or at least Demetriou thinks they have ghosts, but Berry and Novak think ghosts are bullshit. Guillén gets a great rant about the believability of vampires versus ghosts.

Turns out Demetriou’s right, of course, and they do have ghosts. Specifically, they have the ghost of her human ex-lover, Jake McDorman, who is reincarnated over and over and decapitated (by Berry) over and over. McDorman wants Demetriou’s help with something so he can leave the mortal plane, but discovering ghosts actually exist gets Demetriou interested in calling forward some different ones.

Specifically her ghost, along with Berry and Novak’s. Their human ghosts, the souls who departed their bodies back when they became vampires. It’s kind of a really obvious question I’ve never heard raised in any other vampire content. Though I’m decidedly limited. But it’s a cool idea.

And it really pays off. They all have ghosts with unfinished business. Novak gets the cute arc, having forgotten his native language and being unable to communicate with his eighth century human self. Berry’s ghost is very much like Berry the vampire, which is a great touch—Laszlo was always Laszlo, he just wasn’t always a vampire; the two Berry scenes are fantastic because it’s not the big arc so it’s just a lot of able mugging. With a great couple punchlines.

Demetriou’s got the best ghost—revealing, again, Demetriou as the show’s secret weapon, she’s able to bring a level of humanity to the show no one else can. Her ghost is haunted by the idea Demetriou hasn’t done anything with immortality but hung out with Novak and Berry, who tell dick and fart jokes, or something to that effect. It’s hilarious and awesome. And then the ghost interested in McDorman, which only gets more promising as the doubles Demetriou plot.

Proksch’s support in Novak’s arc, but has this hilariously dumb running gag about this joke he’s trying to tell. It gets a most excellent resolution.

Paul Simms wrote the script. Very good script. Great performances from the cast. “What We Do in the Shadows” is smooth sailing two into the second season.

What We Do in the Shadows (2019) s02e01 – Resurrection

So, there’s a lot to say about “What We Do in the Shadows”’s return, like how they figured out an amazing way to keep growing Harvey Guillén’s vampire hunter arc (as he is a vampire’s familiar) and how the show uses a time jump (summer is over, so we get some exposition—unclear if the show was supposed to air in a fall or it’s just a plot device), but the big deal of the episode is Haley Joel Osment.

Osment plays Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou’s new familiar—their last ones kept getting killed off—and he’s a terrible coworker for Guillén. Osment plays on his phone while Guillén does all the work. Guillén is up all night every night killing off the Max Schreck Nosferatu assassins who are after Berry, Demetriou, and Guillén’s master, Kayvan Novak, for some shenanigans last season. And hiding it from them because then they’ll know he’s a vampire hunter.

There’s this great bit about him eating chocolate covered espresso beans to stay up, which Novak thinks are his dried turds. It’s really funny. Excellent script from Marika Sawyer.

Anyway, the setup isn’t Osment being a crappy coworker to Guillén but Osment dying—just like all of Berry and Demetriou’s familiars, only instead of just burying him in the yard, they take him to neighborhood necromancer Benedict Wong.

Wong’s hilarious, selling tchotchkes in his shop and scatting through his incantations to bring Osment back. Now, Demetriou believes in necromancy, but Berry doesn’t, so there’s a bunch of griping Berry, which is wonderful as always.

Only Wong’s legit and Osment’s risen…

Only he’s a zombie.

And none of the vampires believe Guillén. So there are all these chase sequences throughout the house, with Osment just as funny undead as alive. He’s not a regular familiar who wants to be turned into a vampire, it’s just a cool side gig while waits for his 0.5% ownership of a microbrewer to pay-off. Like, it’s awesome stuff. Sawyer gives Osment all this great material and he nails it all.

So good.

It’s downright lovely to have the show back. Just what it needs to be. Novak, Demetriou, and Berry are all great too but it’s really Guillén and Osment’s episode.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)

What We Do in the Shadows is strong from the first scene. An alarm clock goes off at six. A hand reaches over to hit snooze. Only it’s six at night and the hand is reaching from a coffin. Shadows’s a mockumentary (though I sort of want to start calling them docucomedies after this one); the unseen documentary crew’s subjects are four Wellington, New Zealand vampire flatmates—directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh, and Ben Fransham. The vampires have promised not to eat their documenters.

But there’s a lot of eating. Shadows is straight comedy. It’s funny when Waititi can’t figure out how to properly eat a victim, even though he’s almost four hundred years old. See, Waititi (as Clement tells the camera during the first act setup) was a dandy. Waititi is Interview with the Vampire, Clement is London After Midnight in terms of look while Vlad the Impaler (actually poker) in backstory. Brugh’s just a vampire. Fransham is Nosferatu, in some great makeup.

Waititi is the Felix, Brugh’s the Oscar, Clement’s in between. He does his chores, but he thinks Waititi is too much. Fransham is in a cement crypt in the basement and basically just eats people. He never cleans up either; his hallway is strewn with spinal cords and bones. It’d probably bother Waititi more if Brugh weren’t causing such problems upstairs. Plus, neither Brugh or Clement want to take the time to cover furniture before killing their victims. The blood’s getting on the nice furniture.

The first act sets up the life of modern Wellington vampires. How they get their victims—either seduction or Brugh having his familiar, Jackie van Beek, procure them—and how they socialize (they can’t get into many night spots because they need to be invited in). van Beek ends up introducing Cori Gonzalez-Macuer to the fellows, giving the film its main narrative. Gonzalez-Macuer becomes a vampire and, for about three minutes, it seems like the film might move to his perspective but no. Young know-it-all vampires are dopes; Gonzalez-Macuer is a dope and the film’s more about how the flatmates deal with having him around.

It’s not too bad, however, because he’s got a really cool friend (Stu Rutherford) who comes along. Rutherford’s human, but he’s so cool nobody’s going to eat him. Especially not after he shows the vampires how to use the Internet.

The film’s got a built-in structure—the documentary is about this annual undead ball and they’re going with the vampires. The ball shows up late in the film and, while it functions as the climax (or immediate precursor to it), it never feels that heavy. The “documentary” doesn’t change in tone. There’s no added emphases. Action just plays out like action plays out the rest of the time. The film’s meticulously edited, with this occasional asides to subplots. The asides are so successful you want the documentary filmmakers to show up just because they’ve got such an interesting take on their subjects. They’d be interesting characters. And not just because they’re so dispassionate about all the killing.

The killing is incidental.

All of the performances are great. Directors (and writers) Clement and Waititi are the best. Clement’s got something of a less showy role (though a more showy wardrobe) but gets to have some subtext while Waititi plays for more obvious laughs. He’s got his own subplot, but it doesn’t do anything until the end, when it’s just for a great laugh or two. Lots of great laughs in Shadows. Meanwhile, Clement’s subplot turns out to be tied to the main narrative. It’s complicated for the narrative but not so much for Clement, who instead has to imply a bunch in his performance. It all works out just right, of course, because Clement and Waititi do a fantastic job with Shadows. They’ve always got the right tone, the right joke, the right plot development.

Brugh, Gonzalez-Macuer, and van Beek all give strong performances. Brugh’s Oscar Madison so he’s mostly for a certain kind of laughs, but he’s also got great quirks. Gonzalez-Macuer is a sincere doofus. van Beek quietly suffers (she wants to be a vampire but Brugh keeps putting it off because vampires are shitty to their familiars).

There are a lot of vampire movie references in the film, including ones you might miss even if you’ve seen the movie. It’s more important to get the reference being a reference than to actually get the reference. The film leverages obvious genre tropes for humor, not specific references. Shadows is exceptionally well-executed.

And the special effects are perfect too.

Also—superb supporting performances all around, particularly Karen O’Leary as one of the cops who gets called out to check on the vampire house; superb supporting performances are no surprise because everything in What We Do in the Shadows succeeds.

Clement and Waititi, their costars, their crew—everyone does spectacular work.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi; directors of photography, Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen; edited by Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, and Jonathan Woodford-Robinson; music by Plan 9; production designer, Ra Vincent; produced by Emanuel Michael, Waititi, and Chelsea Winstanley; released by Madman Entertainment.

Starring Jemaine Clement (Vladislav), Taika Waititi (Viago), Jonny Brugh (Deacon), Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick), Stu Rutherford (Stu), Ben Fransham (Petyr), Jackie van Beek (Jackie), and Elena Stejko (The Beast).


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