Thursday, September 2, 2021

[Review] “What We Do in the Shadows” Season 3 is the Show’s Biggest, Strongest Season Yet

Staten Island’s most entertaining undead are back with more horror hilarity and supernatural slapstick.

The past year has pushed the world out of their comfort zones in unexpected ways and triggered a level of unparalleled introspection. The public has been sequestered and forced to confront themselves at their rawest and most vulnerable states, which has prompted some staggering revelations in individuals about who they are deep down. These challenging times have reinforced the idea of “nature versus nurture” and perhaps even made some people feel like vampires on some level due to their changed habits and separation from the outside world. 

What We Do in the Shadows exists in a gloriously heightened version of reality that manages to reflect both incredibly dull and unbelievable extremes. The series’ third season has enough dangers in its orbit that it doesn’t need to introduce a real-life pandemic. However, What We Do in the Shadows new season operates as both the perfect healing salve for these dark times as well as a story that presciently reflects the idea of “supernatural versus nature” as it digs into the past and considers the future for its vampiric characters. 

After two seasons of the vampires within What We Do in the Shadows getting comfortable with their cushy, archaic existences it’s exciting that the show’s third season attempts to disrupt their rhythm and guide them to fresh places. There’s been an appreciated vein of serialization throughout What We Do in the Shadows and even though the show’s storylines reach ridiculous places it’s never at the cost of continuity or worldbuilding. What We Do in the Shadows has only gotten stronger as its universe continues to expand and season three gets to revel in many of the changes that were brewing towards the end of its second season.

The Staten Island vampires are catapulted from fugitives to borderline royalty due to some unexpected machinations within the Supreme Worldwide Vampiric Council. A season where the cast is perpetually on the run has a certain charm to it, but it’s also antithetical to the confident, lethargic pacing that dominates the series. Instead, the characters achieve new plateaus of power that highlight how responsibility can become the greatest inconvenience of them all. This innovative perspective doesn’t drastically change the nature of the series, yet it allows for playful new power dynamics to arise as these vampires bicker over their new obligations. It’s deeply entertaining that this gesture that’s supposed to unite these characters only leaves them increasingly fragmented. 

What We Do in the Shadows works when its characters are stuck in their home and squabbling over minutiae or when they’re using their supernatural powers to overcome some benign obstacle. Season three ties up these characters with more mundane vampire bureaucracy, which always manifests in an entertaining manner. Living or dead, everyone hates legislature and red tape. One of the series’ greatest strengths remains its ability to brilliantly juxtapose supernatural chaos with monotony to create a deliriously weird synthesis of comedy. These new tasks also mean that there’s a lot more Kristen Schaal present as the vampires’ council liaison. Schaal fits in perfectly and immediately feels like she’s been a permanent fixture of this universe.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — “The Prisoner” — Season 3, Episode 1 (Airs September 2) Pictured: Kristen Schaal as The Guide. CR: Russ Martin/FX

What We Do in the Shadows always works well when it has its entire cast together so that their chaotic personalities can ricochet around, but this season also makes sure that there are plenty of character-centric stories that are just as satisfying and aren’t lacking in energy. One of the most important dynamics in the series is the ebb and flow of Guillermo’s bond with his vampire family, which truly blossoms this year. The series reframes this relationship in crucial ways and it’s compelling how there’s an element of fear that now exists between them even though Guillermo is basically a teddy bear. Their arrangement pushes them further apart before it allows them to actually grow closer. Harvey Guillén often proves why he’s the series’ secret weapon as Guillermo grows more competent and intimidating, even if his character doesn’t realize it. It’s fascinating to watch Guillermo develop and it’s fantastic whenever the series demonstrates how much of a natural he is at his bloody birthright. 

The series’ new season properly spreads the wealth among its characters and everyone has something unique to keep them occupied. Colin Robinson’s efforts to embrace his energy vampire roots on the eve of his 100th birthday are oddly powerful, as are Nandor’s unsuccessful attempts to connect with modern women and not commit the same mistakes that he did with his 37 ex-wives. This season also creates a few circumstances where Colin and Laszlo get to work together, which is evidently a sublime character pairing that keeps on giving. To that point, season three works hard to organically create unique character combinations that don’t rely on past comforts and try to find the potential in fresh dynamics.

What We Do in the Shadows has rampant silliness in play, but there’s also such a sweet core of acceptance, family–and yes, also codependence–that’s a constant source of warmth and positivity beneath these characters’ un-beating hearts. These vampires understand that there’s a code that governs family and friends just as much as there’s one that applies to warriors. All of the personal struggles that the characters work through shine a light on the very real emptiness and malaise that fills them as they try to fill their eternal lives with meaning. It’s a surprising dose of development that proves that endless bloodsucking and sex can reach its end and that there might be more to life. What We Do in the Shadows vampires strive to grow and break their century-long cycles and it’s rewarding to experience some new sides to these characters. 

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS — “The Prisoner” — Season 3, Episode 1 (Airs September 2) Pictured: Harvey Guillén as Guillermo. CR: Russ Martin/FX

The character dynamics in What We Do in the Shadows have never been more articulate, but there’s also a lot to enjoy here for those that are specifically looking for creative subversions to classic horror tropes. Three seasons in, there are still many vampire staples that the series indulges in, but it also introduces a wide range of new and crazy ideas to the horror canon. There are phenomenal episodes that makes use of a “duplication cloak”, the “Knobnomicon,” or infiltrate the field of werewolf sports, yet a simple trip to Atlantic City contains some of the most worthwhile material from the season and speaks to how just inserting these heightened characters in new scenarios can often be enough. Much like in the past, fun cameos and surprises that compliment the series’ growing mythology are also plentiful. Everyone who shows up in this series is clearly having such a great time.

What We Do in the Shadows has reached the point where many genre programs begin to struggle with diminishing returns and spinning their wheels, which makes it deeply gratifying that this absurdist vampire comedy still feels fresh and is able to tackle new undead content without exhuming old graves. What We Do in the Shadows is exceptional in every regard, whether it’s its dialogue, performances, or the hilarious visual gags that take advantage of this exaggerated universe. It accomplishes the rare feat of feeling both natural and ridiculous and it’s eternally witty even when it’s not delving into horror content. Season three of What We Do in the Shadows proves that there’s still a lot of life in its undead corpses and that audiences should prepare to get cozy in a crypt instead of sharpening their stakes.  

And watch out for Purple Screaming Henries… They’re not a joke.

‘What We Do in the Shadows’ premieres September 2nd at 10pm on FX with back-to-back episodes

This review is based on the first four episodes of the ten-episode third season.


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