Readers Write In #421: What we do in the Shadows – A very funny and clever show you are most probably not watching right now but should be

Posted on November 3, 2021


(by Gnanaozhi)

Was as always surfing the utterly bureaucratic dystopian menu of the clusterfuck that is Disney Hotstar figuring out what is going to be my next fix. And no, I am not kidding when I say Disney hotstar has the WORST UI, search tool of all OTT apps in the country. Don’t believe me? Try and search for something and you will.

Example 1 – Searched for “No country for old men”- First result is “lovecraft country”, # 2 is…Flicka 3  (no clue what it is about), #3 is some Malayalee movie named “gods own country”.

Many a time I get random Hindi, Telugu soaps in my search results and mostly I either know what I want or it is sifting through piles of garbage like am a Slumdog millionaire and found nothing – yeah a bit anticlimactic no?

“What we do in the Shadows” though showed up in a Reddit conversation on the /r/television subreddit, and had many recommending it, and the plaudits kept flowing in. Hilarious, deep satire, slapstick, brilliant actors etc etc. Given that am a bit of a scaredy cat (the last horror movie I saw was the 6th sense. The ring yes, but 90% of it was spent on my then gf, now wife’s neck, pretending I was sleeping) I asked around in that thread if this was a scary show and the answer was a resounding no. Then I got around to discovering it on Disney hotstar and then binged Seasons 1 and 2 within 3 days, it was just that good.

The premise is just stupefyingly silly! You have these clueless about the real world immortal vampire gang of 3 + 1 energy vampire (will not get into what or who it is, but this is the most deadpan vampire and one of the funniest) who live along with their mortal human assistant called a familiar. This is the core premise but the show just keeps ratcheting up the stakes or making it about the mundane.

One episode is about this ultra powerful old world (Europe) vampire visiting on an inspection tour and the shenanigans that ensue while the other is and I laugh just thinking about it, a “Superb Owl party”. The gang is invited to a Super Bowl party, but they think it is about a “superb owl”and are flummoxed when they don’t see an owl, superb or not. The beauty of the show and its writing is exemplified in this episode but is a running theme throughout. The core idea is just silly…silly, silly, silly but the show takes it dead seriously. This is like if Mr Bean was filmed like some arthouse movie. The actors while constantly breaking the 4th wall, never once let on that the idea is silly. In their lived universe, it is all very real. 

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — Season 2 – Pictured (l-r): Kayvan Novak as Nandor. CR: Russ Martin/FX

It is not just the big stakes episodes, some of my favourite and funniest moments in the show occur when all 5 (4 Vampires + the familiar) are in one room together. Their room mate squabbles are a joy to watch in themselves as each of the vampires has their own character (and the brilliant casting just seals the deal).

Nandor the Relentless – he is 800 years old, in the midst of an existential crisis stemming from his immortality (what is the point to living forever if there is no point to living eh?), sweet, kind, generous and utterly clueless about the real world and would not last 10 minutes without his familiar. For instance he has a serious crush on a Lesbian gym instructor, tries his best to woo her and when she tells him she is a lesbian, his response is “are you sure?” 

Lazlo – An eternally horny (every single thing to him involves sex – either with others or his fave pastime of “wanking”) effete Britisher, but possibly the most sentimental of the bunch

Nadja – A 600 year old from a dirt poor Mediterranean Island. She clearly is the most intelligent of the bunch, a very powerful (literally) and headstrong woman, it is her headstrong ways that constantly get her into trouble. Her calling card is the poverty she grew up in when she was a human. She comes up with the most ludicrous stories, delivered in the most and best deadpan ways. Like check this one story out,

“We Were So Poor That We Used To Use Donkey Dung For Fuel, And When The Donkey Dung Ran Out, We Would Have To Burn The Donkey.””- It might not translate well in words, but watch it on the screen and you will laugh yourself silly.
Colin the Energy vampire – Imagine the most boring, dull, annoying personality you know. Now amp it a 10000 and you have an energy vampire. Colin is it. Even the other vampires fear him simply because of how stunningly boring he is.

Then you have their eternally suffering familiar, Guillermo (Gizmo) with his own deep, dark secret (which I won’t get into as it will be in spoiler territory). Nandor is his master, and Gizmo’s only aim in life is to be a vampire but is forever cheated of this desire of his. Gizmo is the one who buries all the bodies after the Vampires have had their fill, he is the one who travels the earth to fetch their ancestral soil, he does the shopping, pays the utility bills and in essence is the reason the vampires are able to live, function and even thrive.

They are super humans (can turn into bats, can leap large distances, punch through walls, move like the Flash) but utterly inept as a counter poise. Once Lazlo turns into a bat to woo someone, gets trapped in that form and animal control traps him, leading the gang to mount a valiant rescue effort. Another time Lazlo is hunted down by another vampire, Mark Hamill in a cameo over an unpaid room bill (from 3 centuries ago or something), he could simply pay the bill, but nope, he runs (flies?) away to a far away town, “disguises” himself by chewing a tooth pick and only that, calls himself Jackie Daytona and starts to run a very popular bar. Hamil’s vampire chases him down for a showdown and the rest is comedic gold!

The show is consistently and often hysterically funny because of its writing. It can be sharp, pithy, emotional (the S3 finale was an absolute shocker and actually very touching) this is balanced with slapstick humour, physical humour (one episode involves a group of super vampires feeling up Nandor’s rather flaccid member and this scene runs for 4-5 minutes and is just that – 4 super vampires commenting on Nandor’s disappointing member). The plot twists and the show itself has dramatic lurches forward and keeps one guessing at all times.

For a show about bloodthirsty (literally so) vampires, it is surprisingly humane and you really connect with all of the characters and dare I say even care for them, all the while laughing yourself silly.