‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Review: Season 3 Serves Outlandish Comedy with a Side of Delicious Dread

Dark eyes, dead hearts, can't lose.
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "The Prisoner" -- Season 3, Episode 1 (Airs September 2) Pictured: Matt Berry as Laszlo, Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja. CR: Russ Martin/FX
Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, and Natasia Demetriou in "What We Do in the Shadows"
Russ Martin / FX

A near-death experience has a way of changing perspectives, and all five roommates (four vampires, one “familiar”) came very close to forfeiting their immortality last season. “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 3 picks up one month after the events of the second season’s finale, when Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) sabotaged the Vampiric Council and saved Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) — by murdering every last vampire threatening them.

The gruesome culmination to a season-long arc that saw the obedient errand boy embrace his lineage as a vampire hunter is revisited right away, as Season 3 sees everyone up to their enticing, atypical shenanigans. New jobs are obtained. Kickball is played. A weekend getaway brings everyone closer together (kind of). But amid the power struggles, sexcapades, and bloviated bickering, this undead horde and their humble hanger-on also confront parts of themselves shaken to the forefront by their recent scare. “What We Do in the Shadows” is very much the same show it’s been for two excellent seasons — an imaginative glimpse at an imaginary way of living not too far removed from our own — it’s just now tinged with existential dread.

Take Nandor. After stringing along his familiar for years, promising to turn him into a vampire once he’d fulfilled his duties as a faithful servant, the 758-year-old blood-sucker sat in awe as Guillermo slayed an entire theater of fellow coffin dwellers. Not only was the vampire butler actually a (highly effective) vampire hunter, but the regularly unrecognized helper was now his unexpected savior. The first episode of Season 3 sees the house vampires debating whether to kill Guillermo as punishment for butchering their brethren, or praise him for saving their skin. While writer and showrunner Paul Simms has quite a bit of fun letting his indecisive leads debate the new Van Helsing’s fate — Nadja exquisitely sums up her side by saying, “Thank you for saving us, but you’re still our mortal enemy; you’ve got to die, babes!” — it’s Nandor’s confused yet instinctual defense that leads to hearty developments in subsequent episodes.

Guillermo, for his part, seems to know who he is even if it doesn’t make sense. “I should really just consider escaping, leaving, never coming back — especially because they’re considering killing me,” he says while awaiting his housemates’ decision. “I just wonder what would happen if I wasn’t here to help them out.” Guillermo may be a vampire hunter, but he cares for these vampires, and he likes them enough to risk his life getting them to acknowledge their own feelings for him. Is it a good idea? Probably not. Is it just the kind of guy he is? You betcha.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS -- "The Prisoner" -- Season 3, Episode 1 (Airs September 2) Pictured: Mark Proksch as Colin Robinson. CR: Russ Martin/FX
Mark Proksch in “What We Do in the Shadows”Russ Martin / FX

Colin Robinson (or as a notable figure in the premiere calls him, Colin “Robinstein”) is the most easily coaxed into caring, though his own reaction to nearly dying is indifference. A few… strange traits emerge, which could be a delayed reaction, or they could be part of who Colin is — he’s the wild card in a group of wild cards, but he does spend extra time bonding with each member of the household, primarily Laszlo, so perhaps he was a bit shook after all.

While his long-term partner, Nadja, remains the ferocious embodiment of “zero fucks,” Laszlo is a touch angrier than usual. Perhaps I’m reading too much into Berry’s brilliant performance, but the vampire we see here seems too hardened to become the regular human bartender who fell in love with a high school volleyball team last year. Early on, Laszlo sums up his (long) life’s mission bluntly: “I became a vampire to suck blood and fuck forever.” But a lack of both isn’t what ails him. Like so many one- (or, in this case, two-)note ideologues out there, Laszlo spins out a bit when confronted with the end. Sure, he had a good run, sucking and… loving his way through centuries of partners, but what does the sum total of so many consumed bodies really mean?

All this isn’t to say that the FX series has transitioned into some kind of high-brow pseudo-comedy; it approaches these questions with outlandish physical humor, a surprising number of poop jokes, and an extra helping of vulgarity. (There are way more f-bombs in these first four episodes than the previous two seasons.) The show is just also very sharp about building believable characters within its unbelievable premise; if you were a centuries-old vampire living in Staten Island, wouldn’t you face similar frustrations? Wouldn’t you ponder the nature of existence after existing for so long? Wouldn’t you rebel? Wouldn’t you wonder if there was a bit more, and go seeking a companion for comfort?

Like the human camerapeople sharing this mockumentary with us, “What We Do in the Shadows” has always felt like a world next door; as though with one knock, we could meet these maniacal neighbors (and probably perish in doing so). The vampires’ relationship to humanity is part of what makes them endearing, just as their exotic laws and supernatural abilities make them captivating. Together, they form a recognizable yet wholly unique TV tale.

To say it’s about friendship would ignore Nadja and Laszlo’s fierce opposition to such affections. Far simpler would be to call it an office comedy, where the roommates are really coworkers who, instead of choosing to stay out of devotion to each other, have to get along for their greater good (or due to co-dependency, as Guillermo acknowledges). But Simms, along with creator Jemaine Clement and executive producers Taika Waititi and Stefani Robinson, pushes each lead down their own path, refusing to let the whip-smart comedy fit too snugly within any one genre. Of the many charms present each half-hour — from the sterling cast to the magnificent costumes and exemplary set design — experiencing this existence through these characters is compulsive entertainment. Few shows make it feel like anything can happen, yet “What We Do in the Shadows” just keeps opening doors to fascinating new personal voyages and inventive world-building. Life, as they say, is about the journey, and here’s hoping this one lasts as long as its immortal subjects will allow.

Grade: A-

“What We Do in the Shadows” Season 3 premieres Thursday, September 2 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. New episodes will premiere weekly and be available the next day via FX on Hulu.

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