When the American television adaptation of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s hilarious 2014 New Zealand-based vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows was announced, I was afraid it would turn out as an inferior copycat of the original. But after barreling through the show’s first season last year ahead of its panel presentation at San Diego Comic-Con, I found myself beyond reassured that the TV version would prove a worthy successor to the film, most due to the involvement of the franchise’s creators.
Indeed, Clement (best known as one half of the comedy-folk duo Flight of the Conchords, but also the voice of Tamatoa in Disney’s Moana) and Waititi (prolific director of Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok, Fox Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit, and numerous other quirky independent dramedies) reunited to ensure that FX’s What We Do in the Shadows served as a gratifying continuation of the movie’s established supernatural universe rather than a warmed-over remake. Last night, the series returned with a two-part second season premiere, and its devilishly delightful strengths were on full display, providing a full hour’s worth of much-needed laughs during these troubling times.
In the first episode of What We Do in the Shadows season two, we pick up with the hapless familiar Guillermo (perfectly, innocently embodied by actor Harvey Guillén of The Internship) defending his undead Staten Island housemates from invading assassins with his newfound– and covert– slaying abilities, in the wake of their escape from the Vampire Council at the end of the previous season. Guillermo, as we in the audience know, is a distant descendant of the famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, but he knows that if his master Nandor (Kayvan Novak of Four Lions) should discover that fact, he would be doomed– or at least forced to kill him.
This of course sets up what I’m sure will be a very humorous season-long arc concerning Guillermo’s simultaneous efforts to keep his heritage a secret while protecting Nandor and his friends, but in the meantime another conflict is set up by the introduction of a new familiar for Nadja (Natasia Demetriou of the British sitcom Seth Lets Flats) and Laszlo (Matt Berry of Toast of London) played by The Sixth Sense’s now-grown-up Haley Joel Osment. Osment’s Topher is a slacker bro whenever his masters aren’t around, but is good at pretending to look busy whenever they enter the room. And Guillermo is onto the hustle, but he grins and bears the additional grief this brings him from the vampires until an accident befalls poor Topher and the group is forced to visit Nadja’s kooky necromancer friend Wallace (Benedict Wong of Marvel’s Doctor Strange, getting a chance to use his real accent on-screen).
Naturally, Wallace’s titular “Resurrection” spell doesn’t go precisely as the vampires had wished, but I won’t spoil what the specific results were here. I’ll only say that the outcome leads to further rivalry between the two familiars and that Osment gets another chance to prove his comedy chops after a few recent recurring roles on other TV sitcoms. The second episode, entitled “Ghosts,” sees a pesky poltergeist showing up in the vampires’ abode, and it turns out to be none other than the spirit of Jeff Suckler (American Sniper’s Jake McDorman), AKA Nadja’s repeatedly reincarnated lover Gregor– look, it’s a long story. Jeff’s presence in the house inspires Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja to hold a seance and conjure up their own ghosts, cementing a terrifically funny premise that only gets more meta as it goes along.
The idea explored here that supernatural beings would be skeptical of the existence of certain other supernatural beings is an inspired one, not to mention the concept of vampires having ghosts because they technically died at the point when they were turned. Again, I don’t want to spoil where it goes from there, suffice it to say that the vampires’ interactions with their own spirits each go their own unique ways, all of them unexpected and extremely amusing. But that’s What We Do in the Shadows in a nutshell and what makes a horror comedy like this successful in the first place: the show, like the movie of the same title before it, undeniably takes place in an absurd world, but the characters’ consistently grounded reactions to that world are ultimately what sell the humor. Oh yeah, and while we’re laughing we’re also waiting for the other Guillermo shoe to drop.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesday nights on FX.