What We Do In The Shadows: Season 3 REVIEW – Undead Dynamics

Like a shark, What We Do In The Shadows must keep moving - or perish.

what we do in the shadows kayvan novak natasia demetriou

What We Do In The Shadows has marked its third season and its fifteenth hour – more, if you count the original film. This is probably more shelf-life than anyone anticipated from a fairly cosy sitcom about vampires living as roomies in the big city. Season 3 seems more than anything to be about pushing outwards, and exploring new avenues of possibility in the vampires’ underworld, having already run through what you might call their everyday lives.

However, this game attempt to flesh out New York’s rather hazy netherworld of ghouls and creepy things starts to reveal some of the internal fault lines within the group. Most notably, who’s the leader? The obvious choice is Nandor as both the biggest and the oldest, two qualifications that still mean a lot to the playgroup dynamics of the vampires.

Unfortunately, ancient warlord Nandor has chosen now to become a lovesick sap for essentially any woman, undead or not, the show chooses to waggle under his nose. This goes largely the way it has in most sitcoms since the dawn of time, where a string of female guest stars act as the bemused recipient of a main character’s funny-guy bumbling, only to then never be seen again. And Kristen Schaal joins the main cast as basically a recurring one of these – though, oddly, is not the recipient of Nandor’s fumbling affections.

(Schaal is the strongest of this season’s celebrity guests, which, since she’s kept to the sidelines, isn’t saying much. There’s nothing on par with the first run putting the vampiric foursome of Paul Reubens, Tilda Swinton, Danny Trejo and Wesley Snipes in the same room, or the second deploying an almost-unrecognisable Mark Hamill as Lazlo’s nemesis. Most damningly, this season brings in David Cross, only to barely use him – in a comedy show. For shame.)

Despite everything, the obvious candidate has to be Guillermo, the only real person. While the rest of the gang are largely content to look languid in anachronistic clothes, he’s the one actually getting things done, and firmly enthroned himself as MVP when he saved everyone else’s life at the end of the second season.

But it’s more than that, though. Fundamentally, he’s obvious protagonist material, if not strictly good then at least the lovable underdog, and what’s more actually has a goal – to become a vampire himself. Here’s where the problems start.

This tension, of him wanting to be a vampire and the vampires wanting him to remain their unpaid servant, must by necessity not be played out too hard lest something snap. You might draw comparison to one of the classic forms of jumping the shark – when the pairing with unrequited romantic tension finally get together, and, sans that dynamic driving the narrative, the rest of the show falls apart.

So it’s not often they touch on it – but when they do, they make it so clear that it’s world-shatteringly important to him, it begs the question of why it doesn’t come up more often. Particularly when the vampires need him to get them out of some horrendous jam, as is so regularly the case. Surely, you might think, here’s the perfect opportunity for him to ask? Oh no, apparently not. Obviously in the sitcom universe the status quo is God, but when you have a character shrugging off their own main motivation, it begins to defy sense.

There’s an oddly existential tone to much of this season of What We Do In The Shadows, with the vampires coming to chafe against the ennui of eternal life. Part of that seems to be them getting a bit tired of each other, which they’ve always wavered in and out of, but Nandor, as longest-lived of the bunch, seems particularly melancholic this time round. At one point he quietly mentions wanting to ‘see the sun,’ which as a vampire is either a longing for something he can never have, or a full-on suicidal thought. Or possibly both.

It’s this, more than anything, that’s trying to press outward into new territories. But actually trying to drum up pathos for our blood-drinking friends seems a misstep, when the central conceit of What We Do In The Shadows has always been their utterly blasé response to it all – killing people, avoiding garlic, the grandeur of having to keep their very lives a secret. Even Guillermo’s always been more put-upon than crippled with guilt.

Strangely, the only one of the gang who doesn’t seem halfway like they’re having a mid-life crisis is the perpetually middle-aged-looking Colin Robinson. Having him be grumpy and lovelorn would fit his shtick disturbingly well. Instead, here the wheels seem to be coming off. Him meeting another energy vampire, the kind of terminal bore who corners you in the kitchen at parties, is a high point, but that’s in contrast to some serious lows.

Writing a deliberately excruciating character like Colin Robinson has always been a careful balancing act. But What We Do In The Shadows can, and has, done a lot better with a lot less than simply having him fart all over the place. The humble fart is a comedy mainstay, of course it is, but it should be a punctuation point, a cymbal crash, not something that’s put on repeat in lieu of anything else.

It’s the same with all of this season’s tentative journeys into new territory – a mixed bag, whose results are at best unreliable. On balance there’s more hits than misses, even among Nandor’s various mawkish crushes, but it’s all built upon slightly unstable ground. This is a result of what is, in all honesty, one of What We Do In The Shadows’s better qualities, its unwillingness to be completely bound by the status quo. The wheels may turn slowly, but turn they do.

The running plotlines, though, are at times tied in too clumsily. Case in point, the Nadja doll, which hung around on the sidelines for much of the last season, occasionally tossing in a quip, as if they didn’t quite know what to do with it. Here, the doll finally gets an episode of its own – about how nobody else really notices it’s there, a choice which feels alarmingly on the nose. Or, if you prefer, a self-awareness the show could have stood to display elsewhere.

You could put this down to a fault of circumstance. Any of these running plots, after all, have to be balanced against the show’s episodic format, which is already sticky enough mud that it’s had to incorporate the occasional (pleasingly irreverent) ‘previously on…’ cold-open. And while I put it in brackets there, the pleasing irreverence is the crux on which the show turns, and does seem to be what’s lacking in most of the complaints I’ve made.

Per example, when the vampires react to receiving a new responsibility by completely sacking it off, it seems borne of character in a way Guillermo never pressing the point does not (even though he’s clearly not a natural point-presser). To achieve that right lightness of spirit, What We Do In The Shadows will always find it very tricky – not impossible, but a real challenge – to dabble in things the characters genuinely care about.

READ MORE: 12 Best Vampire Books To Sink Your Teeth Into

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what we do in the shadows kayvan novak natasia demetriou
What We Do In The Shadows: Season 3 is still pretty strong – when it remembers it’s a show about neurotic vampires, and not a dimly lit version of Friends.