Three episodes in, it’s now confirmed that the What We Do in the Shadows series is every bit as wonderful as the film that spawned it. While the show taps into many of the elements that made the movie a success, it also brings some unique additions to the material—in particular, a new vampire that’s one of the most unsettling monsters ever to grace a supernatural TV show.
He is Colin Robinson, energy vampire. He’s a walking nightmare in horn-rims and cardigan sweaters. He’s embodied by the perfectly cast Mark Proksch, known to comedy fans for his turns on shows like The Office, Better Call Saul, Portlandia, and Drunk History, though his portrayal of Colin can also be traced back to the indie horror movie Another Evil, in which Proksch plays an obnoxious “ghost assassin” who upends the life of the unfortunate man who hires him to cleanse his haunted house.
The other vampires we’ve met so far on FX’s What We Do in the Shadows are all fairly traditional—they have fangs, wear ornate velvet outfits, drink blood, turn into bats, sleep in coffins, etc. But Colin, who presents as a studiously bland middle-aged man, is a “daywalker” who feeds on frustration — something he’s incredibly skilled at amplifying everywhere he goes. That’s why he works in a nondescript office where he’s able to feed just by poking his head over cubicle walls and shooting the shit, and why he delights in taking the podium at local government meetings, holding everyone hostage with his drawn-out views on zoning ordinances.
There’s still a lot of comedy to be mined from the same arenas that served the What We Do in the Shadows movie, chiefly the hilarity that ensues when centuries-old vampires are forced to fumble their way through the 21st century — for instance, what do you do when your immortal finger won’t leave an impression when you need to sign for something on a digital tablet? Creators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who starred in the movie but are behind the camera on the show (variously writing, directing, and producing, depending on the episode), clearly have no shortage of ideas in that realm.
They’ve moved the setting to Staten Island, New York but kept the mockumentary premise, and have already revisited one of the movie’s funniest conflicts, in the form of the longstanding rivalry between werewolves and vampires.
The early episodes have also seen the old-school vampires uneasily heralding the arrival of the skeletal Baron (played by Star Trek: Discovery’s Doug Jones), who’s wondering why they haven’t gotten very far in executing his plan for world domination. We’ve gotten to know Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), the long-suffering human familiar of the pompous Nandor (Kayvan Novak), who keeps almost promising to give his minion the gift of eternal life.
There’s a developing subplot with nerdy college kid Jenna (Beanie Feldstein), who was recently “turned” as a kind of girl-power gift from the sympathetic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and we’ve seen Nadja’s partner, Laszlo (Matt Berry), control a pack of raccoons with a flute and show off his prized garden of X-rated topiary. All this is to say that What We Do in the Shadows has plenty of quirky hilarity that carries on the spirit of the movie.
That alone would be plenty enough to make What We Do in the Shadows a winner, but bringing in a someone like creepy Colin offers an unexpected boost. What We Do in the Shadows’ first two episodes only featured Colin in a few scenes, because as eerily recognisable as he is, he’s most effective comedically in small doses. But the show already found a way to level up what could’ve been a one-joke character by introducing Evie (guest star Vanessa Bayer), who takes a job in Colin’s office and soon reveals herself to be an advanced form of energy vampire: An emotional vampire.
She feeds on pity, so she always has some kind of drama going on, be it a sick cat, a dying grandparent, or some other elaborate tale of woe. In their best shared scenes, Colin and Evie briefly decide to hunt as a toxic team, draining the life force from their colleagues, restaurant staff, and anyone else who proves vulnerable to their manipulation.
We’ve all seen dozens of vampire characters on dozens of TV shows, and while they’re all a little different depending on the context, I can’t think of a single one that’s been explicitly described as an “energy vampire” until now. It’s not a new idea, but the term is typically just a metaphor — used when discussing, say, that co-worker who looms over your desk, fatiguing you with small talk, or that casual acquaintance who has a habit of trapping you into one-sided conversations about petty nonsense.
Using the term literally, as What We Do in the Shadows does, is genius — and it’s just one more reason why we can’t wait to see what this show does next.