tv review

What We Do in the Shadows Is the Best Vampire Workplace Comedy on TV

Photo: Russ Martin/FX

What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampires living in Staten Island. It is also essentially a workplace comedy.

That is especially true in its very funny third season, which debuts on Thursday on FX with two new episodes. Office-sitcom elements have informed some of What We Do in the Shadows before, including the dynamics between Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) and Nandor (Kayvan Novak), the vampiric equivalent of Guillermo’s supervisor; the exploits of energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), who effectively saps the productivity of every colleague he encounters during his corporate day job; and even that famous sojourn by Laszlo, the horny bat-man played by established Vulture fave Matt Berry, as Pennsylvania bartender Jackie Daytona.

But developments in season three immediately turn What We Do in the Shadows, created by Jemaine Clement and based on the film he co-wrote and co-directed with Taika Waititi, into a show more overtly concerned with how an organization (of sorts) does its business when its leadership is blatantly incompetent. It’s just that instead of manufacturing paper or launching a tech start-up, these “business” men and women — also including Laszlo’s partner, Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) — focus on sucking blood and overseeing every other coffin-dweller on the Eastern Seaboard who does the same thing. A bunch of inept old people who have been promoted undeservedly and are determined to destroy the life forces of as many human beings as possible? That’s totally different from the way your company runs, haha, am I right?

The first episode of the new season revisits the events of last season’s finale, when Guillermo, in an attempt to save Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, and Colin Robinson from execution by the Vampiric Council, wound up slaying a whole bunch of vampires. As the season begins, Nandor & Co. are keeping Guillermo prisoner in the basement of their conspicuously Gothic home — naturally, he can easily escape because they are terrible at holding hostages — and waiting in fear for the retribution from their peers that they assume is imminent. Instead, the shortage of local creatures of the night caused by Guillermo’s murder spree leads to Nandor, Laszlo, Nadja, and Colin Robinson becoming the leaders of the regional chapter of the Vampiric Council. “This is now a documentary about Vampire Council leaders,” Nadja chirps happily while throwing a glance at one of the unseen camera operators constantly filming the vamps for a documentary that has yet to be fully explained.

What We Do in the Shadows this season is not exclusively a documentary about Vampiric Council leaders, however. The four initial episodes shared with critics also explore Nandor’s romantic concerns and a ridiculous road trip to Atlantic City to celebrate the wedding anniversary of a Staten Island couple. But the Council promotions add a new rich layer of circumstances to explore and build upon what has always been so inherently hilarious about the series: the contradiction between the serious, macabre nature of vampire existence and the fact that the vampires on this show are a bunch of absolute boobs.

Taking over the Council introduces classic workplace issues, including power struggles, disagreements over how to redesign the local Vampiric Council’s website (“I mean, we could do Franklin Gothic,” Nadja suggests in a font-related conversation, “but it’s a bit on the nose”), collecting membership dues from disgruntled vampires, and becoming familiar with their new work space. During a tour of the Vampiric Council, which is located in the basement of a nondescript office building, two floors below Tenement Developments, Inc. and Lenox Hill Real Estate, the Council’s adviser, the Floating Woman (Kristen Schaal), walks by a break room where human bodies hang in the air, having seemingly been drained of their blood. “Be sure you label your snacks,” the Floating Woman advises, “because we throw everything out every Friday.” What We Do in the Shadows continues to generate comedy gems by being blasé about the truly shocking and/or treating the banal like something astounding. (During the Atlantic City trip, Nandor becomes completely enchanted by The Big Bang Theory after playing a Big Bang Theory slot machine.)

This development also allows the writers to mix things up by playing some effective musical chairs with the characters. Nadja butts heads regularly with Nandor about Council-related quandaries, leaving Laszlo to become unlikely friends with Colin Robinson, a match of the easily bored with the incredibly boring that somehow works. Guillermo is also given a new job, rising from familiar — the name for a vampire assistant–in–training to hopefully become a vampire — to vampire bodyguard, a title change that is largely a meaningless way for Nandor to express appreciation, even though Guillermo still winds up doing crappy errands and being treated like garbage. Again, this show does not at all reflect what it’s like to work in corporate America, not one little bit.

Coming off an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series in 2020, What We Do in the Shadows continues to alternate between deadpan, dark, physical, and scatological humor, sometimes within a single scene, with ease and effectiveness. It also remains delightfully weird, acted by pros with impeccable timing, and Goth-gorgeous in every detail, including production designs that demand viewers hit pause in order to absorb everything in the frame. The only cautionary note to sound is one that applies to all shows done in the mockumentary format: At some point, it seems like the series will need to explain more about who is filming this documentary and what purpose that movie will eventually serve. There have been enough deliberate acknowledgments of the film crew at this point that it’s hard to completely forget it is there.

It’s a problem, though certainly not enough of one to detract from enjoyment of the series. Consider it an item to include in the “professional goals” section of an otherwise exemplary performance review for another fine season of What We Do in the Shadows.

What We Do in the Shadows, TV’s Best Vamp Workplace Comedy