March 28, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “What We Do In The Shadows”



The deadpan vampire mockumentary cult hit WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is the latest piece of IP to find eternal–or at least extended–life on the small screen.  In some ways, it seems like that was where it belonged all along, since the format has for years been the home for sitcom hits like Modern Family and The Office.  But the stylized joke at the center, that vampires are just as cranky and annoying as humans, may be more fruitful as a skit than as the basis of a continuing story, as was the case for some of the more unfortunate feature-length expansions of Saturday Night Live sketches.

The 2014 movie was written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and although only Clement has a “created by” credit on the series, Waikiti (currently hot because of his hit Thor: Ragnorak, which shares some of the comic DNA as Shadows) is also involved, serving as director of the initial episode as well as an Executive Producer.  The sitcom veteran Paul Simms, probably still best known for his great 1990s comedy NewsRadio, serves as showrunner.  The specific characters are different, but the premise is roughly the same:  a mismatched house of the undead.  This time, the group consists of three vampires, the pompous leader Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and his juniors the on-and-off couple Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), along with Nandor’s familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), who after 10 years of service to his master, longs to be made a blooddrinker himself.  One change from the film is a new roommate, the “psychic vampire” Colin (Mark Proksch), who sucks the life force from victims through the power of his sheer tediousness.  The action has been relocated from New Zealand to Staten Island, a joke in itself.

The opening half-hour serves to introduce the characters, and through the visit of a more ancient vampire (Doug Jones), also lays out what will presumably be as close to a narrative throughline as the season will have, which is his order that Nandor and his group conquer the United States from their Staten Island base.  This should force them to interact with the surrounding humans more than as mere main courses, which is where the material is at its best  The highlight of the opener is the scene that has Nandor and Guillermo at a local supermarket, shopping for supplies for the party welcoming their guest.  (Nandor thinks crepe paper is pronounced “creepy,” and thus the perfect accessory.)

The Shadows movie was a brisk 85 minutes, and the question for the series is whether there’s enough here to sustain 10 episodes and more seasons after that.  The characters are amusing but thin, and there’s a risk of repetitiveness, especially at the unhurried pace that accompanies the mock-verite style, and with performances that are so far rather one note.  Still, there’s something charming about a vampire who buys a package of glitter so that he can look like a character in Twilight, and if Shadows can build on that kind of inspiration, it may survive the stake to the heart that is TV’s demand for constant content.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."