TV Review: FX’s ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

The degree to which the mockumentary format popularized by “The Office” has reinvented television comedy is hard to overstate. It’s not merely the direct-to-camera “confessional”-style interviews, which have grown so familiar on shows like “Modern Family” that they barely register anymore as stylistic choices but just as what comedy is. It’s also the purposeful awkwardness, a showy willingness to indulge a long pause or a furtive glance at the camera that pushes beyond naturalism into its own kind of theatricality.

Which makes “What We Do in the Shadows,” premiering March 27 after a screening at South by Southwest, a clever, if minor-key, twist on the format. Taking place among a circle of vampires, the series (based on a New Zealand film of the same name directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi) applies a format whose secret weapon is to expose its subjects’ inherent delusions and dramas to a group of creatures straight out of Gothic horror. They come to seem like something both less and more than vampires — less glamorous, but closer, perhaps, to human.

This show’s blood-suckers have set up camp in Staten Island, a blandly American canvas that perpetually lets the air out of the vamps’ sense of themselves as all-powerful beings. Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetrious, and Matt Berry are witty, engaging company as three eternal beings whose vanities run up against the banal reality of trying to find fresh blood and to conquer a local populace that seems pleasantly impervious; they whine and natter, as we know they’ve been doing for decades or centuries. That their nebbishy assistant Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) is in awe of his overlords only serves to emphasize how unimpressive they really seem. Other standouts include Beanie Feldstein (of “Lady Bird”) as a young woman turned to vampirism and Mark Proksch as the show’s one truly ingenious creation — an “energy vampire” who thrives off of boring those near him practically to death. (No surprise that his scenes largely take place in an office.)

This show’s laughs are closer to chuckles than guffaws — it’s well-observed but its ambitions feel more minor than much else in this era of the relentless big swing. At times, it feels as though the show’s main goal is to present witty wordplay voiced by a few memorable characters. But that can certainly be enough, not least when the show’s mockumentary format feels, for the first time in a while, like something new.

What We Do in the Shadows.” FX. March 27. 10 episodes (four screened for review). 

Cast: Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillén, Mark Proksch

Executive Producers: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Paul Simms, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch, Eli Bush

MORE FROM SXSW:

TV Review: FX's 'What We Do in the Shadows'

More TV

  • New York Post

    Investigation Discovery Plots Two New York Post True-Crime Projects

    The New York Post often runs stories filled with grit, color and melodrama – just the kind of stuff that seems right for TV. Now some of those stories will find their way to a TV network. Investigation Discovery, the Discovery-owned true-crime TV network, will partner with News Corp.’s New York Post on two new [...]

  • ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 9: A

    XFL, Bud Light Work To Shake Up Football Advertising

    The NFL has worked in recent years to take some commercials out of America’s favorite game. The XFL is experimenting with new ways to push them in. Anyone who watched the new league’s St. Louis BattleHawks triumph over the Dallas Renegades in its first week of official play might have noticed ads for Bud Light [...]

  • The Night Manager Network

    Endeavor Content Takes Minority Stake in 'Night Manager' Producer Ink Factory

    Endeavor Content has taken a minority stake in “The Night Manager” producer The Ink Factory. Under the deal, the “Killing Eve” and “Night Manager” distributor is to set up a bespoke development fund for Ink Factory. The pact will specifically target the U.S. market with high-end TV series developed out of Ink Factory’s U.S. outpost [...]

  • Kerry Washington Variety Cover Story

    With 'Little Fires Everywhere,' Kerry Washington Is Ready to Be Heard

    After years of being talked about, Kerry Washington is ready to steer the conversation herself. The 43-year-old actor and producer spent the better part of last decade playing the brilliant Olivia Pope on “Scandal,” Shonda Rhimes’ buzzy political drama that brought Washington into millions of homes. But as the series wound down, she kept a [...]

  • David Coulthard, Sunil Patel, Jake Humphrey

    Sony Pictures Television Takes Minority Stake in U.K. Sports Producer Whisper

    Sony Pictures Television has invested in U.K. sports-focused production outfit Whisper Group. Effective immediately, the business will replace Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund as a minority stakeholder in Whisper, which has become a leading voice in sports entertainment. Founded by BAFTA-winning CEO Sunil Patel, broadcaster Jake Humphrey and F1 commentator David Coulthard, Whispers covers NFL, [...]

  • Kenan Thompson

    White House Correspondents Dinner Returns to Comedy With Kenan Thompson, Hasan Minhaj

    They’re trying to laugh again at the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner. Long-running “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kenan Thompson will host the event, while comedian Hasan Minhaj will be the featured entertainer for the evening, which has often served as a spotlight on relations between the media and the White House. Last year, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content