Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What We Do in the Shadows: Season 2 – review

Directors: Various

First aired: 2020

Contains spoilers

So, in the middle of lockdown from Coronavirus along come some vampire antics to keep us entertained. In the UK we had to wait until the end of the US 10-episode run but the BBC dropped all the episodes onto iPlayer in one go.

It would be wrong to assume that everyone reading this knows the show, so as a potted history: In 2014 came the feature film What we do in the Shadows, where a camera crew followed a group of vampires sharing a house in Wellington, New Zealand, for a documentary. This was spun into a series in 2019 – with a new group of vampires who live on Staten Island. The series is in the same universe and the original vampires cameoed in a season 1 episode.

Laszlo and Nadja
So this is the second season and we are still with Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), as well as his familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry, Snow White and the Huntsman) and his wife Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). As the season began, I felt that the first episode – with new familiar Topher (Haley Joel Osment), who ends up dying and being zombified – missed as much as it hit and worried that it didn’t bode well for the season.

Nandor's ghost
I shouldn’t have worried. Episode 2 not only brought in a fantastic concept but turned the comedy pow factor up a notch, which they then maintained through the rest of the season. So, what was the concept? The gang find they are being haunted by Nadja’s ill-fated lover Jeff (Jake McDorman). We met Jeff in season 1, he (normally) reincarnates, is drawn to Nadja and meets an unfortunate end… this time he has decided to haunt his vampire love. With Jeff mostly ignored, the vampires then wonder whether they have ghosts – after all they are dead – and manage to summon them. This plays with a great concept around vampires and souls – after all their ghosts would be the spiritual aspect of the vampire.

needing a helping hand
It’s a comedy and so the show doesn’t go into this in any depth but leaves the idea raw, open and begging exploration in a paper (for instance, as a contrast, the vampires in Buffy the vampires expressly lose their souls, hence being evil, and Lucy in Dracula has to be destroyed as a vampire to set her soul free). As it is, none of their souls have passed on because they all have unfinished business… Lazslo’s ghost needs to fulfil an orgasm and Nandor’s misses his horse. As for Nadja… well her soul decides to possess a doll and stay (though this was perhaps underused later).

Colin's eyes glow
We get an episode focusing on Colin and his life as an energy vampire – indeed we also, in another episode, discover that he can use internet trolling to feed. This brings us to the fact that the range of paranormal creatures in view are expanded in this season compared to season 1 – we meet the zombie and ghosts, of course, and a real internet troll but we also see witches who use semen to remain young looking (and vampire semen is particularly potent). Guillermo discovered last season that he was a Van Helsing and both falls in with some wannabe vampire slayers and secretly kills vampire assassins coming after the oblivious housemates.

Harvey Guillén as Guillermo
This shows that events from the last season were far from forgotten – the assassins are a consequence of the housemates being sentenced to death in the previous season and the judgement and ire of the Vampire Council is a thing through this season – indeed Jemaine Clement makes a reappearance as Vladislav, one of the film’s vampires and member of the Council. Equally one of the vampire hunters was a roommate of a victim who was turned in the previous season.

Mark Hamill as Jim
I reserve the best for last – however. The 6th episode, On the Run, sees Laszlo tracked down by Jim the Vampire (Mark Hamill, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island), to whom he owes a month’s rent that he ran out on. A duel, turns into Laszlo fleeing and taking on the persona of Jackie Daytona (by wearing blue jeans and chewing on a toothpick). The episode is marvellous – not only with the brief cameo by Hammill but it lets Matt Berry fly. An absolute highlight.

The season started shakily, not that episode 1 was bad but it was hit and miss, but it really got into a stride after that. All the leads bring something to the party, the vampire and wider horror nods are fabulous – such as the witch’s familiar goat Black Peter. The humour is genuine and revels in the vampire genre rather than attacks it. Bring on season 3. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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