What We Do in the Shadows episode 4 review: Bright lights, big city


The vampires head to Manhattan in the latest episode of FX’s What We do in the Shadows, but once again they’re the least interesting part of the story.

The premise of What We Do in the Shadows is pretty simple. Gang of lazy vampires reminded by ancient, creepy boss that they’ve sort of sucked at achieving world domination on Staten Island attempts to rectify the problem via a variety of weird and largely failure-ridden plans.

It’s honestly not clear how long the show can necessarily keep this up. What We Do in the Shadows is, for all intents and purposes, a sitcom – because on some level each episode generally treads the same ground over and over. Nandor, Lazzlo and Nadja are bound to fail at their immortal task, because they’re complacent and lazy, and at some point that’s going to stop being as entertaining as it is right now.

What will the show do then?

To be fair, it seems to know that, to some degree, which is why it’s leaning so hard into the non-traditional aspects of its vampire story. (As well as plot points beyond the scope of the original film the show is based on.) The addition of energy vampire Colin, for example, puts a fresh spin on well-established tropes, and the increasing focus on secondary characters like Guillermo and Jenna gives the show a bit of breathing room as well.

But, as enjoyable as What We Do in the Shadows can be – and often is – it’s also worth questioning what kind of show it’s trying to be. Perhaps I’m ascribing aspirations of greatness to something that just wants to be a fluffy good time, but since it keeps reaching toward something like overall arc, it certainly seems worth discussing.

We’re four episodes into the vampires world domination mission, and the extent of Nandor and company’s success extends exactly one street over from the one on which they reside. Thus, the gang decides to take the ferry to Manhattan, in the hopes of forging an alliance with the other borough’s main vampire sect.

To the likely surprise of no one, this does not go well, as Simon the Devious (played with wonderful gusto by Nick Kroll) and his friends are busy nursing an age-old grudge against all of them. (Vampire pettiness is a trait I never thought I’d like so much!) The status quo is almost maintained – and much of the Manhattan vampire leadership killed – thanks to a cursed witch skin hat and a massive explosion.

The vampire-focused A-plot has its moments, such as Lazzlo’s obsession with his cursed hat, or the laundry list of bizarre vampire names (Count Rapula!!) that make up Simon the Devious’ Manhattan crew. But once again, the standout moments of the episode are those that generally aren’t primarily about our main trio.

Instead, “Manhattan Night Club’s” funniest moment occur with the secondary characters. Colin’s presence is once again an utter delight as the energy vampire sports a bright yellow poncho and bores anyone who tries to talk to Nandor with an endless stream of facts about the building the club inhabits.

Guillermo has also tagged along, though he finds himself banished to what appears to be a janitor’s closet but is actually a sort of holding pen for vampire familiars. The group seems like nothing so much as a bunch of bored spouses forced to make small talk while their significant others bowl or play softball or some sort of extracurricular activity in which none of them are involved.

The expansion of the idea of familiar status is interesting – and something the show should certainly come back to again – particularly given that the bulk of our exposure to the concept outside of Guillermo is a string of increasingly random people who keep disappearing in the vampires’ Staten Island home.

Yet the sort of disgruntled familiar support group – including a cat, Sam – is hilarious, from their group newsletter to their variety of vampire-based duties, such as pretending to be the parent of two small, ancient children. More of this, please!

Also Nadja’s “friend” Jenna from the series’ second episode “City Council” returns briefly for this week’s cold open, dying in front of her roommate and coming back to life on an ambulance stretcher. The return of Jenna is exciting not just because What We Do in the Shadows desperately needs more women (it does), but because the show seems strongest when it’s dissecting the mundanity of human existence through the lens of immortality.

What better way to do that then via the “birth” of a brand new vampire? Think of all the ways Jenna will have to be taught to behave, and how her modern day knowledge could impact – or even help – Nandor and friends, who seem flummoxed by such simple tasks as going to the grocery store? (And how will Guillermo react to someone getting the vampire transformation he’s wanted for so long?)

Those feel like the kinds of stories this series will be best at telling.

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What We Do in the Shadows continues next Wednesday on FX.