Starring Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Gullen, Mark Proksch.
Horror/comedy, US, certificate 15.


Now streaming on BBC iPlayer.


Spinning off from the 2014 film that exposed the vampire scene in Wellington, New Zealand, the first season of WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS was entirely successful in setting up its characters and expanding the world they barely manage to function. With the presence of the film’s director Taika Waititi and co-writer Jemaine Clement on creative duties, the series helped bridge the gap and win over any fans who may have misgivings about its American relocation and new cast. With all the initial setups necessary for any first season out of the way, Waititi and Clement have left the writing duties to new creative staff to chronicle the ongoing adventures of Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, energy-draining Colin Robinson and loyal familiar/servant Guillermo.


Although Clement directs two episodes here, the change in writers and directors for this second season is seamless. As well as continuing the constant culture clash of these ancient, bloodthirsty vampires navigating modern-day America the fallout from the Vampiric Council’s displeasure after the unfortunate events involving Baron Afanas is still ongoing. While this is keeping poor Guillermo on his toes, just as troublingly is the skillset he discovered through his family history. It is this aspect that provides the backbone for this season’s further explorations of the undead navigating the pitfalls of modern society, whether it is mistakenly attending a Superbowl party under the pretence of admiring a superb owl, discovering the surprising truth of internet trolls or the exact origin of Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.


These seemingly mundane events sit nicely alongside the supernatural. Colin Robinson’s powers increase to dangerous levels after a promotion at his corporate office, leading onto one of the most inspired episodes in a season already packed with inventiveness. The wide variety of vampires on display, including a creepy bug-eyed specimen and a 70’s obsessed family with a pair of siblings reminiscent of the Halloran twins from THE SHINING also standing out. A couple of cameos of other more recent horror figures, including a certain top-hatted New Zealander, provide neat in-jokes for horror fans as well as the guest appearance of a game Mark Hammill as a vampire seeking a duel with Laszlo over a long-unsettled debt.


The main cast here could be the series greatest asset. Kayvan Novak, whose onscreen career started with prank phone calls years ago with FONEJACKER, is fantastically gormless as Nandor, once a bloodthirsty emperor. The latter rivalled Atilla the Hun and now intimidated by chain e-mails and charmed by Baskin Robbins vouchers. Matt Berry effortlessly displays his skill in stretching single words out to multiple syllables as the shamelessly depraved Laszlo. At the same time, his wife Nadja’s disdain and love for him is captured on Natasha Demetriou’s expressive face. At the same time, her voice is also put to productive use as Nadja also gets her own Annabelle like doll, a brilliantly designed figure who deserves her spin-off franchise.

Stealing the show from this ensemble is Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson. His infectious glee in his near-constant inane commentary and ability to suck the energy out of a room manages to raise constant laughs. The fact that the writers have managed to give this character several emotional beats in this season is testament to their skill and Proksch’s deadpan manner. Harvey Gullen nicely portrays Guillermo (or Gizmo as the vampires mistakenly brand him) with his dangerous double nature, an excellently developed plot thread that sets up season three very nicely.


Now entirely its own beast WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS has developed and expanded itself as naturally and skilfully as a mockumentary about vampires in Staten Island can. The fact that the whole series is available to stream makes it hard to avoid indulging in firing through all ten episodes at once. Thankfully there is much here to catch on repeat viewings before the series returns next year.


Iain MacLeod.

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