There is too much television. It’s true, we’re living in an era of “peak TV” — so many shows are being made, so many shows will continue to be made, and many of them are very good — which only makes it that much harder to find the shows that you really want to watch, the ones that will speak to you. There’s just too much out there, too much noise, too many people I follow on Twitter talking about Succession.
When I look back on 2019, there were a few favorites: I saw a single tweet about Derry Girls and quickly became obsessed with it. There was season three of Big Mouth, that I watched in a weekend — same with season one of Russian Doll. (Yes, that was this year!) There was my weekly rituals of watching Schitt’s Creek, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Good Place live, so I didn’t get spoiled (even though I love spoilers). There was also The Great British Baking Show on Friday afternoon after I got home from work, and Saturday Night Live on Sunday mornings, a routine I will never give up. And I said goodbye to my beloved shows Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
But there was one show that stood out: What We Do in the Shadows.
What is What We Do in the Shadows, you ask? It’s my new favorite TV show, one which has been criminally overlooked this year. The premise is simple: A documentary crew is let into the secret lives of vampires who live on Staten Island. It’s filmed in a mockumentary style, with talking heads, glares to camera, and the like. It’s on Hulu, and has already been renewed for a second season, premiering sometime in 2020.
And it is so damn funny.
Some history: In 2005, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement wrote and directed What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires, a short film. It was only 27 minutes, and it starred Waititi and Clement, alongside Jonathan Brugh, as three vampire roommates in Wellington, New Zealand. In 2014, Waititi and Clement turned the short into a full-length film that premiered at Sundance Film Festival.
The film blessed us with the most perfect reaction gif:
I happen to love Jewish-Māori director Taika Waititi and everything he does (yes, including Jojo Rabbit) and his dedication to rompers. And, my sister and I have long loved Flight of the Conchords, a series co-created by Jermaine Clement. (Yes, I know every word to “Hiphopopotamous vs. Rhymenocerous.”) So perhaps it’s no surprise that I love their show. Waititi and Clement met in college in the late ’90s, and have been long-time collaborators. Waititi and Clement had never really wanted to turn the movie into a TV show, yet here we are.
As Waititi explained, “We didn’t mind the idea of it existing, but the idea of us doing it was just a lot of work. We don’t like work. For a while after we did the film, we were just like, ugh. Also, we didn’t want to be in it. It’s fun to play a vampire once or twice, but then having to play that character again and again in a TV version, I think would be too much for us. We decided to trick other actors into doing that. Really, it worked out better because it’s still in the same universe as the film. Our characters still exist and they’re still in New Zealand. There’s an opportunity for a crossover. If we ever felt like we wanted to play those characters again, we could.”
The show takes place in the same universe as the movie — and yes, the co-creators make an appearance in an episode. They also both direct three episodes each. Other guest appearances include Vanessa Bayer, Nick Kroll, Tilda Swinton, Evan Rachel Wood, Kristen Schaal, and many, many, more.
The show follows four vampires who live together: Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). There’s also Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor’s familiar. Oh, and Jenna (Beanie Feldstein!!!), a college student who Nadja turns into a vampire.
One stand-out for me is Colin Robinson, the only American character, who is a “daywalker” — AKA, unaffected by the sun. As Matt Zoller Seitz writes in Vulture, “[Colin Robinson] provides some of the show’s biggest laughs by serving as a connector between the vampire world and this one. Energy vampires can exist in daylight and work in regular offices and other workspaces, where they regale colleagues with endless, droning monologues about their vacations or their favorite kinds of condiments until they start to feel very sleepy.”
The idea of “energy vampire” is so delightful and smart that my family has taken to calling people by the term when a story goes on for too long. (Googling “energy vampire” has led me to discover a series of articles about dealing with “energy vampires,” so apparently this is a thing that exists outside of the world of the TV show!?)
But I can’t emphasize this enough: What We Do in the Shadows is really, really funny. The humor is the perfect blend of dry and silly. As NPR wrote, the show “puts the dead in deadpan.”
Plus, the form of the show works wonders: Nadja’s glances to the camera outdo any character in any mockumentary series (yes, I’m looking at you, Jim from The Office).
Yet, What We Do in the Shadows somehow got left off most of the “best of 2019” lists for television, which is a true shanda. The only nod it got was from Vulture, my fave, where Kathryn VanArendonk writes, “Some shows just hit you, you know? For me this year, one of those shows was FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, a goofy vampire comedy adapted from the 2014 movie. It is roughly a mockumentary, shot as a sequence of reality-show-esque footage intercut with talking-head interviews, centered on the lives of the dumbest vampires to ever attempt to take over Staten Island… One of TV’s jobs is to make you happy, and What We Do in the Shadows did it for me.”
And I fully agree with her. There was so much bad about 2019 — so much bad!!! — that watching something that brought me nothing but joy was a true delight.
Thank you, What We Do in the Shadows. I can’t wait for season two.
All images courtesy FX.