Those who know of What We Do in the Shadows probably think of the 2014 cult hit mockumentary about a brood of oddball vampires wrestling with typical roommate drama like who should do the dishes and how to gobble down human blood without making a mess in the living room. Ten years before that, it was a short film that Jemaine Clement claims was made for about $200.
Before that, as Clement and his co-creator Taika Waititi revealed today at New York Comic Con 2018, the idea was born as a stand up comedy routine in which one of them told bad vampire jokes ("I just flew in from Transylvania and boy are my arms tired!") and the other heckled him, also as a vampire, until they recognized one another as centuries-long rivals. Now, it's FX's latest comedy show, and based on the pilot episode--which screened exclusively during NYCC on Sunday--What We Do in the Shadows is perfect for fans.
(Disclaimer: The pilot episode screened at NYCC was reportedly unfinished, and this is not a review of the final program.)
The new What We Do in the Shadows follows a similar formula to the original. Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry) are vampire roommates, this time in New York City's Staten Island rather than the original's New Zealand. But their dynamic, and the humor it enables, is similar. When Nandor, who was once a "ferocious" soldier in the Ottoman Empire, calls a flat meeting in the library, he and Laszlo (Berry, giving off similar vibes to Jemaine Clement's character in the original movie) nearly come to blows over the bad habit of leaving half-drained humans around the house. They bare their teeth and hiss like feral cats before Nadja, Laszlo's partner and the series' first female vampire, defuses the situation.
As any normal roommates would, the three resolve to mark their human prey with their names and dates of consumption from now on to avoid the problem in the future. Nandor adds "buy markers" to the list of chores for his hapless familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), who keeps a photo of his childhood self dressed as Antonio Banderas from Interview with a Vampire framed in his sad bedroom under the stairs, and serves his master's every whim in the hopes of one day being turned into a vampire himself.
The group's way of life is challenged when an ancient vampire baron comes to visit via lantern-lit ship from the old country. Our heroes, it turns out, arrived on Staten Island 200 years earlier and, instead of undertaking their mission to colonize all of America as part of a new vampire world order, they just kind of hung around. They worry the baron, who fills a similar comedic role to the movie's 8,000-year-old vampire Petyr, is there to check on the progress of their mission.
Although the show is definitely similar to the movie, it's clear from this unfinished pilot that co-creators Clement and Waititi--as well as executive producer and writer Paul Sims, who joined them onstage after the screening--have plenty of new ideas for this world.
For example, just as in the movie, our three vampire protagonists have a roommate. But instead of the millennia-old Petyr, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is basically just an average-looking guy. In what is undoubtedly the episode's best and most unexpected gag, Colin is a "psychic vampire" who can drain all the energy from humans and other vampires alike just by speaking to them about boring subjects like office gossip and different types of car washes.
"We either bore you with a long conversation, or we enrage you," Colin explains in the episode. "In fact, you probably know an energy vampire. We're the most common kind of vampire."
Clement said afterward that he came up with the idea for Colin while researching types of vampires. "I think we all know a person like that," he said. "We hadn't thought of anything like that for the movie, but when I was reading about different kinds of vampires, that was one that people mentioned as a real kind of vampire that exists and that we all come up against. And I could think of conversations I've had where I've been trapped by someone, and probably people have felt like that with me there."
In the episode's other subplots, Guillermo hunts for tasty virgins at a LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) event, while Nadja stalks a human man who she believes may be her reincarnated former lover, a knight named Gregor who she accidentally decapitated centuries earlier. Meanwhile, Laszlo and Nadja each separately reveal that they're looking forward to the baron's arrival for the same reason: Despite being a decrepit, crumbling horror, the baron is apparently a monster in the sack, although each is unaware that the other has been there.
It's easy to see how FX will stretch out the absurd, distinctive comedy from the original 2014 movie into a full series. There's plenty in this pilot--which is uproariously funny, even in unfinished form--that could conceivably continue for whole seasons, from Guillermo's hopeless pining to become an immortal to Nadja and Lazslo's unwitting love triangle with the ancient baron. And much like the movie, sprinkled throughout the show are moments of gruesome horror that give it just a little bit of a sharpened, wooden edge.
What We Do in the Shadows won't premiere on FX until Spring 2019, but Sims has already teased a future episode in which the brood will venture into Manhattan. As they haven't actually left Staten Island since arriving by ship centuries earlier, they've apparently always assumed the island borough is all of New York, or maybe even all of America. But they'll discover that their fellow nightwalkers in Manhattan are "a little cooler" than them, according to Sims.
Now that we've caught a glimpse of What We Do in the Shadows and we know what kind of show we're getting, the last remaining question for fans has to be whether Clement's and Waititi's characters from the movie will ever appear on the FX show.
"Only if something really disastrous happens," Clemente teased cryptically. "It would have to be of incredible import."
"We're creating a universe to rival that of Marvel and DC," Waititi joked. "What we're doing is we're taking one idea and stretching it out for years and years."
"That's what they do too," Clement replied, laughing.
What We Do in the Shadows is scheduled to premiere on FX in Spring 2019.