The second season of any TV series is a bit of a risky endeavor. It involves finding the balance between all the things that worked in the first, and moving the story forward into something sustainable for years to come. “What We Do in the Shadows” is off to a great second season as it returns to television tonight.
Picking up a few months after Season 1 left off, the vampires have been keeping themselves occupied with various pursuits. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is stretching his legs and developing his abilities as an energy vampire. The new episodes find Colin dabbling in dad jokes and sports statistics, giving him a more solidified place in the vampire house. Proksch embraces the expanded role with delightful hebetude. Nandor (Kayvan Novak) has been on a “summer of self discovery,” which bears a striking resemblance to what we’ve all been doing these last several weeks under quarantine. Novak is as funny as ever, and this time around has some opportunities to bring a bit more sweetness and depth to Nandor, welcome growth for a man who has been undead for centuries.
Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Mark Berry) continue their never-ending quest for a familiar. They’ve had a long run of bad luck in that regard, ever since June (Mary Gillis) was killed by the Baron (Doug Jones) last year. As the premiere opens, they have finally found their perfect familiar, Topher (Haley Joel Osment). Osment is a hilarious and welcome visitor to the vampire family, and a perfect foil for poor Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor’s overworked and underappreciated familiar.
Guillermo has had the biggest journey since last we saw our motley crew. Which makes sense, given he’s the only one in the house who is fully alive. Guillermo has been grappling with the revelation that he is a descendant of Van Helsing and his habit of accidentally killing vampires might not be so accidental. Guillén introduced the human familiar with charming naivete last year. Watching his vampiric dreams slowly die over the course of ten episodes was always equally sad and funny. This time around, Guillén infuses Guillermo with a bit more of an edge. He passive aggressively mutters internal thoughts with the resignation of a man who finally understands he’ll never get the one thing he wants most. Yet duty calls, and he goes to hilarious lengths to keep Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja safe and protected.
The second season of “What We Do in the Shadows” is more of all the things that worked so well the first time around. But it doesn’t simply rehash successful elements and retell old jokes. In the vein of classic sitcoms, each week promises a new situation — an event, a visitor, a problem to solve — while teaching the characters a bit more about themselves and about each other. Part of the brilliance of showrunner Jemaine Clement is his ability to sneak in subtle bits of character growth while we are busy laughing at the silly, gross, and moronic.
In addition to catching up with our favorite characters, this year promises even more guest stars and new locations. Perhaps nothing can live up to the truly epic episode, “The Trial,” which included guest appearances from some of the biggest stars ever to play vampires in the movies (Tilda Swinton, Wesley Snipes, Evan Rachel Wood). But just as that guest list was kept quiet until the episode aired, we can expect the star power to be just as bright now that the series is Emmy-nominated.
Meticulously crafted with luscious sets and costumes, “What We Do in the Shadows” continues to be a sitcom with incredible production value. From a seemingly random painting on Nandor’s wall, to the taxidermy displays in Nadja and Laszlo’s room, or Colin’s file cabinet bedside table, there is plenty to see and love. Playing in a strange and delightful blend of Gothic and modern, Kate Bunch’s production design is unique and brilliant and paves the way for low-key humor that’s easy to miss. Repeat viewings reveal new hidden treasures in every shot.
Reveling in the ridiculous and finding an overabundance of joy in the mundane, “What We Do in the Shadows” returns to TV exactly when we need it. It is funnier, more settled in, and comfortable with its own identity. Who better to help get us through the pandemic than vampires who once survived the plague and now deal with their own version of social distancing? Or, if that seems like a stretch, it’s at least a hilarious distraction.