What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 Recommits to Its Strongest Character and Gives the Series a Sharp New Focus

TV Reviews What We Do in the Shadows
What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 Recommits to Its Strongest Character and Gives the Series a Sharp New Focus

On paper, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is the sort of series that shouldn’t work at all. Based on the film of the same name written by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, the series has become one of TV’s best comedies by taking the admittedly ridiculous conceit of the original and running with it to even greater heights. Following a group of vampire roommates who live together in Staten Island, New York, the series fully embraces the ridiculousness of its premise, indulging in humor that ranges from complex absurdism to jokes about bodily fluids. But the specifically delightful alchemy of this show can be found in the ways it uses the story of its often idiotic undead leads to find sharp, heartfelt, and, yes, hilarious, observations about what it means to be human. 

As the series heads into its fifth season, it’s probably fairly obvious by this point if the vampire comedy’s offbeat mockumentary format and frequently raunchy humor are for you. And, to be clear, the four episodes of Season 5 made available to screen for critics are as bonkers and ridiculous as any that have come before them, featuring everything from body swapping and mass hypnosis to a group outing to a local shopping mall where one of the vampires takes the doll possessed by her dead human spirit to visit a Build a Bear Workshop. Almost none of it makes any sense if you look at it too closely, but if you’re predisposed to love the adventures of this band of self-absorbed undead weirdos, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. (The show remains, first and foremost, dry, biting, and deeply, often painfully funny.)

In Season 5’s initial episodes, the world of the vampires seems to steadily expand beyond both the walls of their Staten Island residence and the undead community. And What We Do in the Shadows finds plenty of fresh narrative ground to play in (and make fun of) in the human world, inserting our faves in everything from a neighborhood pride parade to the overblown bureaucracy of local city government elections. But the reason this series remains so compelling, despite its increasing longevity, is the characters at its center, and Season 5 deftly explores emotionally rich ideas of family, loyalty, and belonging, even as it cracks vulgar sex jokes and douses the scenery in the arterial spray.

The premiere opens just a little over two weeks after the events of Season 4’s finale, and shows us characters who are still dealing with the fallout. Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), fresh off the loss of his wife Marwa (Parisa Fakhri)—whose personality he essentially erased before literally turning her into a completely different person—is reading self-help books, primarily the 1967 classic I’m OK—You’re OK, in an attempt to recenter himself and get to a better place emotionally. Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), who burned down her vampire nightclub to claim the insurance payout from a policy she never bothered to buy, connects with the local Antipaxan immigrant community in the hopes they can help her after she discovers she’s under the influence of a supernatural hex. Energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), now a fully grown human, once more embarks on a new career in food service to take advantage of the many opportunities to feed on frustrated customers. And all the former Vampiric Council coordinator known as The Guide (Kristen Schaal) wants is for the Staten Island vampire clique to finally accept her as a real friend.

But the biggest question hanging over the new season is, of course, what exactly happened to Guillermo (Harvey Guillen). Nandor’s loyal and eternally put-upon familiar finally reached his breaking point at the conclusion of Season 4, deciding his master was never going to follow through on his promises to turn him into a vampire and offering convenience store clerk Derek (Chris Sandiford) a bag of cash to do it instead. But the end credits rolled without showing us whether Guillermo was successfully turned, and as Season 5 begins… the answer to that question remains surprisingly murky. Though he sometimes displays an unexplainable or even occasionally vampire-esque new trait, the strange changes Guillermo is undergoing baffle both him and Laszlo (Matt Berry), who is determined to use his scientific mind to suss out what’s happening. 

Whether Guillermo will fully become a vampire is a question only the rest of the season can answer (Is he stuck in a sort of transitional limbo because of his Van Helsing vampire hunter blood? Is he becoming something else entirely?), but it’s certainly a story with far-reaching potential, and the season’s first four episodes lean into the idea that this isn’t a subplot that will be neatly solved anytime soon. (Which is, by the way, probably a good thing.) After a season that saw the vampires’ human familiar spend most of his time on the sidelines of its larger stories, Season 5 firmly places Guillermo back at the center of its narrative, asking questions about what his confusing new status means for him as a character, and exploring the impact of the changes in his life on his already complicated relationship with Nandor. 

What We Do in the Shadows has long understood that the vampires’ familiar is the beating heart of the show, casting him as an audience surrogate, and frequently using Guillen’s deadpan asides and eye-rolls to the camera to undercut the most ridiculous antics of his onscreen costars. As a character, Guillermo has always straddled the two different worlds at the center of the series, a regular human who primarily exists in the increasingly bizarre realm of the supernatural, but whose humanity serves as the emotional linchpin around which the bulk of the series turns. It makes a certain amount of sense that even his attempt to become a vampire, at last, would follow a similar pattern, keeping his character in a more elaborate version of the liminal space he’s so often occupied in the world of the show.

Nandor’s increasing confusion over Guillermo’s strange behavior, not to mention his growing jealousy over all the time he’s spending doing “science” with Laszlo, is certain to fan the flames of shippers everywhere who are convinced that the relationship between the two is something much deeper than a vampire and his familiar. Guillen and Novak remain incredible scene partners, and the idea that What We Do in the Shadows might finally explore the complexities of the bond between their characters in greater depth is an incredibly tantalizing one. 

Where Season 5 will go beyond these initial episodes is anyone’s guess, but the series’ clear-eyed understanding of its characters and their relationships has never been sharper—or more biting. If we’re lucky, maybe these vampires really are immortal.

What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 premieres Thursday, July 13 on FX and streams the next day on Hulu.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV

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