“What We Do in the Shadows” won’t be everybody’s cup of tea – or warm blood – but like the little-seen independent movie upon which this FX series is based, it should work its spell on a devoted cult following. Quirky, droll and surprisingly dry given its preoccupation with drinking, the show serves up an amusing riff on vampire lore, and as a bonus, living in Staten Island.
The rather simple premise involves a quartet of vampires – hundreds of years old – who have improbably settled in Staten Island, where they share a house. Like any roommates, there are some issues, although when one gripes about finding people “half drunk” in the house, it takes on a very different meaning.
Nandor (Kayvan Novak), the lead vampire, also has a human attendant to safeguard him during the day, or “Vampire’s familiar,” a relationship described as “like being a best friend … who’s also a slave.” Said aide, Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), dreams of becoming a vampire himself, but for now endures the indignities of servitude, which includes having to hang out with other familiars when vampires assemble.
The other bloodsuckers, Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), operate as a kind of team, albeit a squabbling one. Finally, there’s Colin (Mark Proksch), a “psychic vampire,” who doesn’t drink people but rather drains their energy, hilariously, by boring them with his mind-numbing dullness.
Produced by Jemaine Clement (half of “Flight of the Conchords”), director Taika Waititi and Paul Simms (FX’s “Atlanta”), the series employs a documentary-style format that has the vampires delivering direct-to-camera testimonials. It’s not the most novel device but nevertheless works. (The undead cast no reflection, but it turns out they photograph just fine, if a little pale.)
Perhaps foremost, the show is unpretentious in its just plain silliness, which in later episodes includes a turf war with werewolves, the challenge of finding virgins to feast upon for a special occasion and an encounter with the vampire (guest Nick Kroll) who lords over Manhattan and is, naturally, a bit of an imperious snob.
The dark streak running through FX’s dramas has translated into a fairly bleak brand of comedy, yielding several shows which are very good (see the aforementioned “Atlanta”) but few that are laugh-out-loud funny.
“What We Do in the Shadows” might be a strange title for a show whose main attribute is its lightness, but in its small way, it offers an antidote to that, while demonstrating that there’s room for a fresh spin on funny monsters. And it’s probably even better if you’re half-drunk.
“What We Do in the Shadows” premieres March 27 at 10 p.m. on FX.