How are vampires dealing with social distancing? They’re probably immune to COVID-19, but they also depend on a ready supply of human blood to keep going. Between quarantine and curfew, there aren’t a lot of us out and about after the sun goes down.
This was the first thought I had when watching the start of the second season of FX’s undead mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, in which a quartet of vamps get one another’s nerves while sharing a house on Staten Island. If any current comedy is equipped to tell jokes about our current hellish state of existence, it’s this utterly ridiculous, gross, hilarious show in which supernatural horror keeps running afoul of the complexities of modern human life. An episode where vampires Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Nandor (Kayvan Novak) harangue their human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) for failing to procure them humans during a pandemic would seem both in poor taste and absolutely par for the course with this series.
That said, the second thought I had watching these episodes was what a relief it is to be able to disappear not only into a recent version of the past — one where Guillermo is still able to go hunting for virgins at a club for mosquito collectors — but also into a show so absurd and so tenuously connected to even the best version of our own reality.
As was the case with the first season, Shadows can be hit or miss with its humor. None of the four installments FX gave critics to review are quite at the level of last season’s “The Trial” (which featured cameos from former screen vampires Wesley Snipes, Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Reubens, and Danny Trejo). But the laughs come often enough, and are always big enough, to make the comedy a very welcome escape.
Where Season One’s MVP was clearly the fourth roommate, “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), this year’s standout looks to be Guillermo(*). Fresh off discovering that he’s descended from legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, Guillermo finds himself torn between his devotion to Nandor and his unmistakable talent for murdering creatures of the night. It’s a smart way to shake up the show’s basic structure, even as Nandor and the others remain oblivious to Guillermo’s power and preoccupied with the usual idiocy. Guillén does a great job of playing the inner turmoil of the show’s regular human character, particularly as the vamps continue to treat Guillermo badly while fawning over Laszlo’s terrible new familiar, Topher, played by Haley Joel Osment(**).
(*) Colin does just fine for himself, not to worry, as he continues to find new and creative ways to bore the life out of people. In a particularly inspired running gag, he decides to experiment with humor, and goes to great, at times metaphysical, lengths to get someone to ask him, “What’s up dog?”
(**) Osment’s career reinvention from doe-eyed child star to reliably creepy adult character actor has been very impressive.
Guillermo’s family secret adds some smart tension to the usual silliness of the vampires misunderstanding human things we take for granted. In one episode, for instance, Guillermo is trying to prevent a group of amateur vampire hunters from attacking his masters, while the masters themselves are busy freaking out about the curse promised by an email chain letter. In another, the housemates are invited to their neighbor’s Super Bowl party, but are under the mistaken belief that it’s a “Superb Owl party” because of the great respect they have for a fellow nocturnal flier.
That an episode takes place at a party feels almost quaint in April of 2020. Strange as it is to visit a time that feels like a century ago, it’s also a relief to have this unapologetically juvenile, unmistakably funny show bring some lightness to these new times, when we’re all hiding inside like this crew of oddballs.
Season Two of What We Do in the Shadows premieres April 15th on FX. I’ve seen the first four episodes.