What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.
The vampire housemates in FX’s horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows, based on the film of the same name by Taika Waititi and series creator Jemaine Clement, have been chided for their lack of ambition since the series’ first episode. Tasked with taking over the Western Hemisphere, they could barely get their acts together to take over Staten Island. In Season 3, they’ve finally achieved some real power (through no fault of their own), and the new dynamic provides an excellent opportunity to further develop the characters and their absurdly mundane world of magic and monsters.
The catalyst for the change and most improved character is Guillermo De la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), who started the series as a servant — or familiar in vampire lingo — to the elder vampire Nando the Relentless (Kayvan Novak). Guillermo was a pathetic character, obviously being strung along with promises of eternal life that Nandor never intended to make good on. But rather than maintain the sad status quo or having Guillermo abandon his master, the writers gave nuance to his character with the revelation that he’s a descendent of Abraham Van Helsing and has inherited his ancestor’s vampire hunting skills.
Giving powers to the mundane character in a supernatural show is a genre cliche usually required to keep up with power creep. But What We Do in the Shadows subverts that trope since the vampires spent Season 2 oblivious to the escalating danger they were in as Guillermo secretly protected them, right up until the finale where he had to reveal his true nature in an epic spectacle of violence. Season 3 picks up soon after, with the bumbling vampires trying to decide his fate while also fearing retribution. “I just want to protect you from yourselves,” Guillermo pleads as office drone energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) and the sex-obsessed Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry) hurt themselves more than Guillermo in their ill-thought out attempts to intimidate and punish their prisoner, even as the always confident Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) looks on with exasperation and urges a quick execution.
One of the series’ greatest strengths has always been the ability to propel action forward at a breakneck pace to get plenty done within a 25-minute episode. “The Prisoner,” the first part of the Season 3 premiere, is no exception. In a surprising message from the Supreme Worldwide Vampiric Council, the vampires are told that “Vampire must never kill vampire. But when a vampire kills like 37, 38 vampires, well, these are vampires who know how to get things done.” Rewarded with control of the East Coast, the vampire housemates have an entirely new source of conflict with the rest of the area’s undead and each other.
Both the film and the show have always felt like watching a game of Vampire: The Masquerade, with the vampires playing at being powerful and intimidating but winding up getting hilariously sidetracked by petty squabbles. That’s never been more true as the group tries to figure out how to share responsibility when faced with the declaration that they have to choose a leader to sit upon the Council throne. The episode makes great use of slapstick physical humor by having Colin, Nandor, and Nadja fight over the chair like unruly children. The real winner of the conflict is clearly Lazlo, who coolly opts out of the game, saying “I didn’t become a vampire to become a pen-pushing bureaucrat. I became a vampire to suck blood and to f*ck forever.”
The second episode of Season 3, “The Cloak of Duplication,” provides a glimpse at just how much material the writers can get from this plot twist. The Guide, played by Kristen Schaal of Bob’s Burgers and 30 Rock with her signature vaguely ominous perkiness, serves as something of a quest giver, instructing the new leaders of their responsibilities like ensuring upstart young vampires pay their dues. Of course, they’re still just as easily sidetracked. An artifact in the Council headquarters that lets the wearer take on someone else’s appearance provides fodder for a goofy farce as the other vampires try to help Nandor with his love life.
Nadja has always not-so-secretly been the most competent vampire in the core group, and she really shines in her new role where she’s free to turn her frustrations with others into sudden violence while lashing out at her disappointing colleagues for not being prepared to do what it takes to rule. Guillermo’s no closer to his dream of being a vampire, but he’s confident in his role of stake-wielding bodyguard. Guillén gets to show off more of his comedic chops, since instead of always being something of a put-upon straight man, he’s now free to poke fun at his ignorant “masters” rather than just being servile.
Laszlo also demonstrates the same cocky, carefree attitude that served him well as his alter ego Jackie Daytona, enjoying the privileges of power — namely the Council’s legendary pornography collection. Bizarre, archaic looking artwork is a regular feature of the show — originating in the movie — and the penis images from the ancient Knobnomicon continue that absurdly weird tradition.
Colin, who feeds off boring and annoying others, continues to provide some of the show’s weirdest non sequiturs, like obsessing over the contents of the imprisoned Guillermo’s poop bucket. He also gets some time to shine when dealing with a young energy vampire who primarily feeds by making people’s eyes glaze over when he goes into far too much detail talking to them about weed. Having lost control of his familiar, Nandor seems to be in a bit of a slump, but that feels more like fodder for a season-long conflict than a failing of the writing or Novak’s performance.