One of the advantages of making What We Do In The Shadows into a TV series is the opportunity it presents to fling open the doors—I’m picturing big French doors with billowing curtains, like in a Meatloaf video—to the monstrous possibilities teased in the showdown between the vampires and the werewolves in Taika Waititi’s 2014 film. Season one mostly concentrated on developing the world of our core vampiric trio: their friends, their lovers, their arcane bylaws and supernatural limitations. Now, season two of the show opens with two back-to-back episodes, each introducing a new flavor of occult creature to the show’s lineup.
Technically, season opener “Resurrection” (A) has two occult creatures if you count Wallace, the extremely online necromancer played by Benedict Wong. Wong is one of two guest stars in the season opener: The other is Haley Joel Osment as Laszlo and Nadja’s new familiar Topher, a role that Osment digs into as enthusiastically as he lunges at Guillermo after being turned into a zombie midway through the episode. Topher reminded me a bit of the character of Stu in the original film, both in his normcore wardrobe and in how much everyone likes him. He’s bro-ier and more duplicitous than Stu, however, which make his multiple deaths all the more hilarious. Guillermo, of course, hates him.
That echo of the film is emblematic of the premiere episode, which overflows with signature Shadows bits. There’s even a house meeting! We open with a montage of familiars meeting untimely ends punctuated by one of my personal favorites: A droll Matt Berry line reading. (Sure, he just said, “Oh, shit,” but it’s the way he said it.) From there, this fantastic example of comedic momentum managed to pull off the very tricky task of showing off both the group dynamic—something that was missing from some of the less memorable episodes last season, and was used to great effect in the scenes in the necromancer’s hut—and each character’s individual growth since the season one finale.
“Resurrection” takes a “what I did on my summer vacation” approach, opening with each character reporting back to the still-unseen film crew about what they’ve been up to. Our core trio of Nadja, Laszlo, and Nandor seem to have passed the time pretty uneventfully—what a few months when you’ve been alive for centuries? But Colin, having diversified his approach to boring people to death, is newly invigorated after discovering the buffet for psychic vampires that is community theater.
But the most dramatic change is in Guillermo, at least partially. Sure, he’s killed at least a dozen vampires since we last left him. But he’s been doing it in a way that’s true to the pathetic, even lovesick doormat of a character established in season one. He has indeed found the most thankless way possible to embrace his new powers by protecting his master in secret, also closing the plot hole of what happened to all those vampire assassins the council sent after Nandor and the gang after the events of “The Trial.” This episode was more modest in its ambitions than that season-one highlight, but I found its writing and performances to be just as excellent. If this season follows the same pattern as the last one, Guillermo’s destiny should function as a loose through line in the same way the Baron’s death did in season one. He does seem to be sprouting a little bit of a backbone; perhaps the Summer of Guillermo is still to come.
“Loose” is the key descriptor in talking about the show’s story arc, as Guillermo barely features in the second episode, “Ghosts” (B). Instead, we find a nice balance by concentrating more on the vampires in this episode, enhancing their personalities by introducing them to their ghostly doubles. Of the three, Nadja having a laugh with her 700-year-old former self about how horny they are was the most entertaining for me—and Nadja clearly agrees, as she put her soul into that creepy-cute doll at the end of the episode. I look forward to seeing what happens when Laszlo figures this out.
Meanwhile, Laszlo’s ghost asking for a sexual (that’s pronounced “secks-seew-al”) favor so he could pass on to the afterlife was a funny bit, if a bit truncated. (No pun intended.) And Nandor’s language barrier with his ghostly double was a good example of something in the writing of this episode that threw me off a little bit: Its tendency to anticipate the audience’s questions, and then answer them in the dialogue. (See also: Guillermo commenting about how ridiculous it is for Nandor, a vampire, not to believe in ghosts.) As a comedic technique, it was perhaps a little too self-aware for a show that doesn’t usually talk back to its audience, despite its mockumentary framework. That is, the characters talk to the fictional people behind the camera, but I never got the sense that they were directly addressing the viewer—and more specifically, the nitpicky nerds in the audience—until “Ghosts.”
A pretty good episode of What We Do In The Shadows is still better than the best episode of many TV comedies, however. And it’s exciting to see that the show is getting a little more ambitious in its action scenes and with its special effects—ghost-Jesk’s demonic severed head looked great!—while keeping all the things that made the first season click. There were some fabulous faux-medieval paintings of Nandor in this episode as well. Shoutout to the art history nerd who creates those.
- We’re back, baby! It’s good to spend Wednesdays with y’all again.
- Apparently Topher has never seen Good Will Hunting, because Dem Apples would have been an even better name than Dose Apples. (It is entirely possible that this was, in fact, the joke.)
- Becoming a Blade-style action hero is obviously the big growth point for Guillermo, but he also spoke Spanish on this episode—which I believe is a first.
- The references to one’s intestines coming out of one’s anus reminded me of a Chuck Palahniuk short story I hadn’t thought about in ages. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- “I think he’s a zombie!” “Could be!” Another great line delivery from Mark Proksch there.
- The scene of Topher beating Guillermo with his severed arm had me in hysterics. Harvey Guillén really is fantastically skilled at playing off of his scene partners.
- A subtle detail from the zombie storyline: Topher doesn’t try to eat the vampires, because they’re not human.
- Little known fact I just made up: A group of Babadooks is called a basket, as in: “I was visited by a basket of Babadooks in my nightmare last night.”
- Overall, the more meta jokes in “Ghosts” weren’t my favorite part of the episode, but “I’m not sure what my deal is either!” was a very funny line.
- So, do vampires have souls? According to this modern-day equivalent of a Geocities site, yes? Sort of? It’s complicated.