The New Zealand horror mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows became an overnight cult fave when released back in 2014. It didn’t take long before talks of a sequel started cropping up, with directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi even hinting that they were working on a spin-off film focusing on the film’s werewolves (aptly titled We’re Wolves). Ultimately, What We Do in the Shadows found expansion on the small screen instead, with both the New Zealand spin-off Wellington Paranormal and, most significantly, an American series now entering its second season on FX.
The TV series started airing in March of 2019, and gained a devoted following at a similar rate. Its audience just loved the show’s adherence to the original film, by meshing vampire mythology with smart humor and detailed characters. Many fans even began to ponder if the show might actually surpass the film. To put it bluntly, it absolutely does!
While some fans were nervous at first that an Americanized take on What We Do in the Shadows would lack the film’s wit and surrealism, this hasn’t been the case at all. Jemaine Clement is still heavily involved with the project, and even brought Waititi along to direct a few episodes. Furthermore, Clement has confirmed that the show is set in the same universe as the movie, which establishes that they’re playing by the same rules as the original.
The show’s decision to re-incorporate the mockumentary style of the film was necessary for a myriad of reasons. While the mockumentary format has been popular on TV since The Office, What We Do in the Shadows’ supernatural format makes it feel fresh again. Its incorporation of a documentary-esque style is richer than other TV comedies, and even better than the movie. It isn’t limited to just talking-head interviews; its use of archival-esque imagery and artwork further elaborates on the history of this vampire world.
Similar to other recent comedies that create an engaging juxtaposition between meta-elements and world-building (Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington’s On Cinema universe being perhaps the best example), What We Do in the Shadows only grows more detailed with each episode. Early on in the series we learn that the show’s central group of vampires were sent to America eons ago by an elder vampire, instructing them to take over The New World. This never happened. While the vampires’ lackadaisical approach to life is similar to that of the film’s, the drama of knowing that our protagonists aren’t acting out on their grand task adds more humor and tension to the proceedings.
The world-building by Clement and his writers is endlessly clever, especially as they find new avenues to make the show’s mythology correlate with everyday life. Take the character Colin (played by dead-pan maestro Mark Proksch), who is an energy vampire. Unlike their blood-sucking brethren, energy vampires don’t hold typical vampiric qualities, and instead prey on the energy of humans by being boring and frustrating in conversation. It’s humor that instantly hits, because so many of us know someone like Colin in our lives (he even says that energy vampires are the most common type of vampire).
The jokes about more familiar vampire mythology is just as intelligent, poking fun at how a lot of recurring tropes in vampire fiction don’t make sense for modern sensibilities. For example, when the recently turned vampire, Jenna, is receiving instructions on how to turn into a bat, she asks where her clothes go during the transformation, to which none of the veteran vampires can answer.
Human characters are more important in the show then in the movie, especially the character Guillermo. Acting as the vampires’ “familiar”, Guillermo is a human who desires being turned into a vampire, acting as their personal servant under a promise that they will one day turn him. His character ties into mankind’s perpetual obsession with vampire lore, and the fact that Guillermo looks nothing like a vampire (wearing clothes that look more equipped for prep school than Hot Topic) just makes the dynamic even funnier. The character will be an integral part of the show’s ongoing story, as the season 1 finale reveals he has an unexpected heritage.
Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stargate SG-1 before it, What We Do in the Shadows is a series that outdoes its source material, proving it was better suited for the television medium to begin with. Granted, the film version of What We Do in the Shadows was of much better quality that those of the aforementioned ones. However, it’s clear that the world Clement and Waititi created was just a well of great ideas that needed to be mined through the spectrum of television. Fans of the series are still well advised to watch the movie, especially since it’ll increase their appreciation of the cameos in “The Trial” episode.
Airing Wednesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on FX, What We Do In The Shadows stars Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Matt Berry, Mark Proksch and Harvey Guillen. Taika Waititi co-produces alongside Jemaine Clement, Scott Rudin, Paul Simms and Garrett Basch.
What We Do in the Shadows is a great show, but how does it measure up to the original film? It's actually even better!