The only thing I didn’t like about What We Do in the Shadows’ first season? The commercial breaks! Rude interruptions aside, the FX series based on Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s brilliant 2014 movie was a consistently hilarious mockumentary about the mundane and occasionally macabre lives of Staten Island’s resident vampires. While we wait for season two, there’s no better time to revisit our favourite moments so far.
Before we get into specifics, a couple of broader shout-outs are in order. First, the loving amount of attention that goes into What We Do in the Shadows’ production design must be commended. The costumes (whether lavishly ornate or deliberately normcore) are magnificent, the vampire mansion is faded grandeur at its finest, the folksy theme song (Norma Tanega’s “You’re Dead,” which carries over from the movie soundtrack) is both jaunty and morbid, and the show’s frequent cutaways to “historic” images (tapestries, woodcuts, paintings, vintage photographs) that bring context to its immortal main characters are rendered with the perfect mix of artistic earnestness and lurid humour. What We Do in the Shadows delights in poking fun at vampire lore, and of course, has its own set of rules that govern its creatures of the night. There’s typical stuff like “no sunlight” and “you must invite us in,” but they also, for instance, can’t eat human food without projectile vomiting, or say the word “God” without tons of effort and a lot of fire-breathing.
Another source of many jokes: their supernatural powers, which include the ability to “memory wipe” mortals when they need a quick do-over, transform into bats, and hypnosis, although the latter only works under certain conditions. Finally, What We Do in the Shadows’ mockumentary format allows for frequent fourth wall breaks, both in the form of sit-down interviews and, even more amusingly, agonised eye contact with the camera whenever something embarrassing is happening, which is often. The “documentary crew” has remained unseen so far, but at least one of them has been eaten – a definite job hazard when infiltrating the vampire world, to be sure.
A family outing in “Ancestry.” From left: Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry).
In more specific terms, however, and after much deliberation, because the show is 100 per cent pure gold – here are our favourite moments from the show so far.
Laszlo, Pied Piper of Raccoons (episode 2, “City Council”)
As part of their slapdash plan to take over America (starting with Staten Island, out of convenience), the vampires plot to overthrow their city council, whose mild-mannered members are mostly focused on boring things like zoning laws. Their plans for domination take a nosedive due to a number of factors, however, a big one being an ill-conceived scheme to curry favour with the council president by leaving a pile of dead raccoons on her front porch. That said, the sight of Laszlo (Matt Berry) summoning a mob of trash pandas using the sweet music of his magic flute suggests these vampires don’t fail at everything they try to do...only, uh, most things.
Vampires can’t sign tablets (episode 1, “Pilot”)
The group heads to the waterfront to pick up the visiting Baron (Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones), who’s sailed from “the old country” in a coffin tucked into a ship’s cargo hold. Trouble arises when it comes time to sign the receipt, and it’s revealed that undead fingers are unable to leave any imprint whatsoever on a digital tablet – sort of a 21st-century twist on not being able to see one’s reflection. Fortunately, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the long-suffering human familiar to Nandor (Kayvan Novak), is there to assist.
Jeff’s past life regressions (episode 5, “Animal Control”)
Though Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) is married to Laszlo, her wandering eye falls on parking attendant Jeff Suckler (Jake McDorman), and she’s soon convinced he’s actually Gregor, a mortal man she’s romanced throughout his various reincarnations. His present-day dorkiness proves highly disappointing until she forcibly jogs his memory and he suddenly starts reliving his past lives (and gruesome deaths, always by beheading) in rapid succession. Though poor Jeff eventually loses his head in the season finale, the subplot is a clever way of illuminating Najda’s colorful past, and it’s a funny showcase for McDorman, who you may recognise from Limitless, another movie-turned-TV show.
Jenna (Beanie Feldstein) becomes a vampire, thanks (?) to Nadja (Natasia Demetriou).
Jenna’s vampire awakening (episode 8, “Citizenship”)
After Nadja takes pity on mousy college student Jenna (a recurring character played by Beanie Feldstein), she decides to empower her by turning her into a vampire, though she doesn’t bother to read her the fine print before doing so. When a very confused Jenna realises what’s happening to her, she takes it pretty well (way better than the jealous Guillermo, who’s been waiting a decade for Nandor to make him immortal), but grows frustrated when she has trouble controlling her new abilities...until a fit of rage unlocks her special talent for invisibility, a fitting power for someone who’s felt overlooked her entire life. As proud vampire life coach Najda gleefully points out, “You are going to murder so many human people with this!”
“Seinfuck” (episode 9, “The Orgy”)
While prepping for the bi-annual vampire orgy – a very important social event that the roommates were somehow selected to host, despite their propensity for disaster – Laszlo boasts about his porn career to an unimpressed Nadja. Turns out his vast filmography stretches all the way back to the silent era, but the pièce de résistance is an X-rated parody of a certain popular 1990s sitcom. Yes, there’s a slapping bass solo intro, and it is spectacular.
Guillermo’s Lois Lane moment (episode 4, “Manhattan Night Club”)
What We Do in the Shadows’ most prominent human character clings to the belief that Nandor is going to make him a vampire, even though his master routinely humiliates him at every opportunity. Most insultingly, Nandor has a habit of only reluctantly intervening when Guillermo’s life is threatened by another vampire. Feeling vaguely sorry for treating his familiar worse than dirt, Nandor decides to scoop him up for a magical, soaring flight over Manhattan, just like Superman and Lois Lane. Except Superman would never drop Lois Lane. Oops! Fortunately, Guillermo’s only slightly mangled by the experience, but a more perfect summation of his toxic relationship with Nandor would be difficult to dream up.
“Gizmo” (Harvey Guillén) learns the surprising truth about his family tree.
Guillermo’s intriguing heritage (episode 10, “Ancestry”)
In the season finale, Guillermo decides he’ll submit everyone’s DNA to one of those mail-order tests – and the biggest surprise comes with his own results. Though his ancestors mostly hail from Mexico, he does have a bit of Dutch in his history. The family name? VAN HELSING! Though of course he insists he’s not destined to be a vampire killer himself, What We Do in the Shadows slyly gives us plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. Could this be a hint of what’s to come in season two?
Jeremy the virgin (episode 9, “The Orgy”)
One of the essential components of any vampire orgy is, of course, a virgin feast. Bad timing sees one of Guillermo’s nerdy friends, the Fortnite-obsessed Jeremy (James Dwyer), run into Guillermo and Nandor while they’re shopping for decorations. One whiff of Jeremy’s sweet, sweet virgin nosebleed blood and Nandor insists Guillermo invite him to the gathering. Of course, Guillermo feels ill about luring his friend to certain death, but he’s such a good familiar he does it anyway. He’s wracked with guilt until he walks in on Jeremy, who’s clearly no longer a virgin, getting extremely lucky at the orgy. Tragedy averted – and the unexpected reveal is played for maximum shock value and laughs.
Simon the Devious (Nick Kroll) and his terrible mullet.
Nightclub roll call (episode 4, “Manhattan Night Club”)
After the failed coup of the Staten Island city council, the roommates determine the next step in their American takeover should involve an alliance with Manhattan’s vampire contingent, led by their old frenemy Simon the Devious (Nick Kroll). They head to Simon’s tacky nightclub for a meeting that goes typically sideways. But before that, they’re introduced to Simon’s undead posse, “the Leather Skins,” who include the following: Big Vlad, Abbadon, Empusa, the Freak Sisters, Little Vlad, Mister 50s, “S” (because her name is “Sarah”), Evil Steve, Freakfest Tony, Blavglad the Exsanguinator, the Silent One, Chunt, Jane the Soulless, Elgrad the Fifth, Horvok the Pit Master, Gronthrapal and his brother Krylsac, Wesley Sykes, Desdemona the Shrieker, Len (Simon’s accountant), and Count Rapula. The roll call goes on way longer than it should, and the more ridiculous it gets, the funnier it is.
Werewolf fetch (episode 3, “Werewolf Feud”)
The age-old feud between vampires and werewolves was a major part of the What We Do in the Shadows movie, and though it played a lesser role in season one of the TV show – really, these vampires barely need foes other than themselves to make plenty of trouble – it still made for one of the season’s best moments. After a wolf is caught peeing on Laszlo’s erotic topiary, the two groups gather for a face-off between their best fighters, as mandated by the Staten Island Lycanthrope and Werewolf Truce of 1993. Neutral ground (the roof of an abandoned Circuit City) is selected, as are the combatants: Nandor, and an Incredible Hulk-sized werewolf named Toby. The scene is set for a bloody battle – if you’ll recall, the movie werewolves unleashed a fair amount of gore – until Nandor chooses an unexpected weapon from beneath a pile of swords and knives: a squeaky toy. It works so well you wonder why they even brought swords and knives in the first place.
She doesn’t have fangs, but that smile is still pain-inducing.
Not all vampires feed on blood (episode 1, “Pilot”; episode 3, “Werewolf Feud”)
The fact that What We Do in the Shadows would contain an “energy vampire” – in the exquisitely bland form of one Colin Robinson, played by Mark Proksch – was actually spoiled by one of the show’s trailers, but that didn’t make the character any less awkwardly amusing. Even better, though, was when the show gave office drone Colin a soul-sucking new co-worker named Evie Barrett (Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer), who turned out to be an advanced form of energy vampire known as an emotional vampire. Though the show mines a lot of humour out of the contrast between traditional vampires and the modern world, the inclusion of Colin and Evie suggests that the most terrifying monsters in our midst might actually be khaki-clad “daywalkers” who feed by droning on about bullshit, and who wake up each morning aiming to drain the will to live out of everyone they encounter.
Baron gone wild! (episode 6, “Baron’s Night Out”)
Apologies to “The Trial,” which contains the single greatest scene of the season, but “Baron’s Night Out” was easily the funniest What We Do in the Shadows episode from start to finish. The shenanigans begin when the Baron – whose imposing presence has been causing tension in the house – demands a night out on the town. Doug Jones, who’s made up to look like the Crypt Keeper, gives a note-perfect performance as the bitchy Baron, who’s so culturally out of his element that he makes Nadja, Laszlo, and Nandor look totally assimilated. But the two highest points of a sky-high episode are: 1) when the Baron demands to try NYC’s signature “pizza pie” despite fully knowing the consequences, which involve a vomit stream so propulsive he starts pinballing around a parking lot; and 2) when Guillermo flings opens the front door of the vampire house, unaware that a totally sloshed Baron is standing in the exact right place to be incinerated by sunlight. Funniest TV death in recent memory, and very possibly of all time.
Vampire all-stars (episode 7, “The Trial”)
With Hollywood heavyweights like Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement running things, it’s no surprise that What We Do in the Shadows was able to secure some incredible guest stars in its first season, with “The Trial” being a veritable feast. After the Baron’s untimely demise, Nadja, Laszlo, and Nandor are summoned before the Vampiric Council, where they’re confronted by three of the main characters from the What We Do in the Shadows movie (played by Waititi, Clement, and Jonathan Brugh).
If those cameos weren’t a total surprise – frankly, it would have been more surprising not to see the show’s creators pop up at some point – the rest of the guest stars certainly were: comedian Kristen Schaal and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista as vampires the gang encounters on their way in, and then the Vampiric Council itself, which is packed with well-known actors who’ve all played vampires: Tilda (Tilda Swinton, riffing on her role in Only Lovers Left Alive), Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood), Paul Reubens (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn), and a Skyped-in Wesley Snipes (Blade). The scene only lasts a few minutes, but it is as astonishing as it is unforgettable. Where to go from here? Fingers crossed that the famous names that only get mentioned in passing (“Rob,” “Kiefer,” “Tom,” and “Brad”) just might find the time to appear in the second season.