When we last saw the vampires of the FX series What We Do in the Shadows, the stakes were higher — and pointier — than ever. At the end of Season 2, Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Colin (Mark Proksch) learn that former human doormat Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) has become a vampire hunter. The group must now decide whether or not to execute Nandor’s familiar. And face the unexpected consequences of his slaughter of the Vampiric Council.
By Season 3, What We Do in the Shadows has a budget and mythology outpacing Jemaine Clement’s and Taika Waititi’s original film of the same name. Yet with Clement stepping away from the adaptation, there’s a noted shift in the show’s comedy style that doesn’t always cohere. FX only made four of the new season’s ten episodes available to press ahead of its debut. Two of these episodes are good. But the other two are grating and obvious in a way that marks an unusual misstep for the series.
At its best, What We Do in the Shadows is uproarious thanks to the way it juxtaposes the mundane (crepe paper, chain letters) against the darkly melodramatic (beheadings, gushing arteries). There’s a childlike glee inherent in the main characters of this series that makes them endearing. Sure, it’s usually other peoples’ pain and suffering that makes these vampires giggle, but their enthusiasm is still contagious.
Much of that is gone in the What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 opener, which sees the roommates bickering at length about Guillermo’s fate. Laszlo, whose “Jackie Daytona” alter ego was the highlight of Season 2, spends much of his time in these new episodes shrugging off responsibilities. His charm curdles inexplicably into unsocial behavior.
Meanwhile, Nadja has become taunting and quick to anger. Nandor is suddenly lovesick. And energy vampire Colin, who is by definition meant to be boring, is actually kind of interesting now. All of these changes read as out-of-character, and not in a master plan sort of way. The addition of Kristen Schaal, whose Vampiric Council liaison shows up mostly to yell at the core group, does little to improve these underwhelming episodes.
The worst thing a high-concept series can do is turn usual. The first few episodes of What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 dwell on traditional sitcom plots with expected outcomes: mistaken identities, power struggles, hints of love triangles. One character even continually points out that a plot point makes no sense. As if that’s a sufficient explanation for a plot making no sense.
Even at its lowest point, the show is still enjoyable enough thanks to its lush production and dynamic cast. And fortunately, the writing quality picks up in Episodes 3 and 4. The former, titled “Gail,” marks the return of one of Nandor’s old girlfriends. And with her comes an inter-species rivalry that lends the series some much-needed comedic fresh blood. A familiar vampire movie needle drop late in the episode is irresistible and hilarious. From here (and on out, hopefully), the series begins to return to form.
In the fourth episode of What We Do in the Shadows Season 3, titled “The Casino,” the group takes a trip to Atlantic City, where they become enthralled with hotel commercials, a Rat Pack cover band, and a Big Bang Theory slot machine. The episode is a paean to the enthralling, exhausting endlessness of casino vacations. After two seasons spent almost entirely on Staten Island, it’s undeniably fun to see these supernatural roommates conquer new lands.
By the end of the four episodes available for review, the series recovers much of its charm. And, more importantly, much of its warmth. Yet these episodes still leave me wondering: how long is a show like this built to last?
Season 3’s bright spot is Guillermo, who seems to be evolving into the series’ main character. His position as familiar is one of eternal limbo. He serves his masters in hopes of one day becoming like them. Yet the perpetual punchline is he’s Charlie Brown, forever gearing up to kick a football that will be yanked away. By turning Guillermo into a skilled vampire killer, the writers are imbuing him with a level of power that makes his position as the group’s straight man thrillingly untenable.
What We Do in the Shadows has already been renewed for a fourth season ahead of its Season 3 premiere. As it continues, the series will have to choose, like Guillermo, between stasis and reinvention. Hopefully, they can teach some old vampires new tricks.