SXSW Review: Vampires Are as Funny on Staten Island as New Zealand in FX Series ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

SXSW Film Festival: The long awaited TV series “What We Do in the Shadows” made its premiere in Austin, Texas to a crowd of delighted fans.

Executive Producers Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement bring their cult hit film to the small screen on FX. Like the feature film, the series follows vampires in a “Real World” style show that depicts the lives of the undead. From roommate squabbles to keeping jobs, the series provides a clever and hilarious spin on classic vampire lore.

Waititi directed the pilot. In it, viewers meet Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and his familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) on the eve of their tenth anniversary together. Guillermo hopes that this is finally the night Nandor turns him into a vampire. We also meet Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry), a couple who have been together more than 100 years. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) completes the collection of housemates as an energy vampire, which is exactly what you think it is, just given the supernatural treatment. They all live together in a mansion in the highly coveted borough of…Staten Island.

Waititi’s gift at character introductions makes the opening moments of “What We Do in the Shadows” a perfect entry into the lives of these vampires. Without knowing much about anyone we’re about to meet, we are already laughing in anticipation of what’s to come. This is one of the rare comedies that will make you laugh out loud even if you’re watching alone.

When the Staten Island coven receives word that a powerful, old vampire (Doug Jones) will soon arrive from New Zealand, they set about to prepare for a welcome celebration. The preparations include a lot of crepe paper and glitter. There is also a visit to a local community college to pick up a couple of virgins (Beanie Feldstein and Chris Perfetti) for ritual sacrifice.

“What We Do in the Shadows” sets itself apart from other similarly styled shows. Comedies like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Modern Family” have all done the mockumentary show effectively. Much like those series, “Shadows” is full of sight gags and throw away lines that are easy to miss on first viewing and will no doubt make this show very rewatchable. Where it separates itself from those starts with its premise. Because the main characters are all exceptionally old and have long histories, the showrunners can go in many different directions. They can make jokes that would never work anywhere else. And they can play with elements like costume and production design in new and exciting ways.

If you are a fan of the original film, or if you’re discovering the story for the first time, “What We Do in the Shadows” is sure to please anyone who loves to laugh at the macabre. This is escapist television at its best, with silly humor that is also highly intelligent and unexpected. Sure, they sometimes go for the obvious jokes and those are fun. But when they go in unexpected directions, which is often, the comedy takes on new levels of joy and heart.

“What We Do in the Shadows” premieres on FX on March 27.

GRADE: (★★★★)

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