SXSW review: What We Do in the Shadows’ pilot is wickedly funny


The adaptation of the New Zealand vampire comedy seamlessly translates to television with a humorous and unique pilot episode.

It’s weird seeing the pilot of a series where you never saw what originated it. In this case, I’d never watched Taika Waititi’s 2014 vampire horror/comedy What We Do in the Shadows. But I took a chance on seeing the pilot for its new television incarnation, set to air on FX on March 27, and am so glad I did. Waititi and show writer Jemaine Clement craft a show that’s witty and thought-provoking in unison that, if it maintains the momentum of the pilot, will be able to enthrall fans new and old.

Like the 2014 feature, the pilot of What We Do in the Shadows is shot documentary-style with an unseen crew following three vampires living in Staten Island. Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is the de facto leader who can’t do anything without the help of his put-upon familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillen). Also in the house are long-term lovers Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Nastasia Demetriou), who take their relationship rut to extremes.

I’m hearing from others the pilot is incredibly similar in style and humor to the feature, which should please long-term fans. With Waititi and Clement becoming more household names, the show is a fantastic opportunity to grab newcomers to the vampire universe they’ve created. If you enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok’s humor, this is your thing. The laughs are derived from the average things humans deal with, but in this case vampires have been putting up with it for far longer.

In this case, Guillermo has worked for Nandor for 10 years in the hopes of finally being turned into a vampire. Who hasn’t hoped their boss, vampire or not, would give them a raise? You also have Laszlo and Nadja seeking their own individual passions, considering they’ve been together for centuries. Nadja falls for a human who reminds her of a dearly decapitated lover, but is it worth it to betray her partner?

The series’ momentum will continue by the writing continuing to look at human drama and extrapolate it via vampirism. Shouting matches are replaced with hiss-offs, an ex coming back to town is a centuries old master seeking virgins (one of whom is played by Beanie Feldstein). The pilot never introduces an overarching goal — short of the vampires hoping to turn all Americans into one of them — but suffice it to say, it’ll succeed purely by reiterating time and again that vampires are people too.

On its own merits, the pilot is expertly rendered. The characters are all hilarious in their own ways, from Guillen’s sensitively eager Guillermo who, like a puppy, wants his master to tell him he’s doing a good job and is chronically rebuffed by Nadja’s weird takes on flirting. “Energy vampire” Colin (Mark Proksch) nabs the spotlight with his unique history. The ability to sap people’s energy by being boring is funny on its own, but hearing snippets of Colin’s stories, coupled with Proksch’s deadpan delivery, is great.

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If you haven’t seen What We Do in the Shadows, this pilot will demand you rectify that. The script is as sharp as a vampire’s fang, and the actors create true intimacy with each other. You believe these people have lived together for centuries. I can’t wait to spend more time with them.