The spoof, satire and parody have been around in comedy movies for almost as long as the medium has been around. Some of the great early works from the Marx Brothers, Abbot and Costello and Laurel and Hardy used these to make fun of other genres and tropes in timeless ways.
Later, the likes of Mel Brooks and the Zucker Brothers took this a step further, but then a new type of comedy genre that uses spoof, satire and parody emerged: the mockumentary. It wasn’t long until TV took the storytelling method and ran with it for some of the most popular sitcoms of the 21st century.
And now the mockumentary is being applied to the horror genre with brilliant and hilarious effect in “What We Do in the Shadows,” based on the 2014 feature film of the same name by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
The FX original series is a documentary-style look into the daily — or rather, nightly — lives of four vampires who have “lived” together for hundreds of years in Staten Island. The self-appointed leader of the group is Nandor the Relentless (played by Kayvan Novak), a 700-year-old ruler of a fictional kingdom in Southern Iran and a warrior serving the Ottoman Empire.
Then there’s the 300-year-old British vampire Laszlo (Matt Berry) — “a bit of a rogue and a dandy and a fop,” he might say. He’s a lover of mischief, but not as much as he loves seeing Nandor fail miserably in every attempt. And then there’s the 500-year-old Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), the seductress, the temptress and the most outspoken and driven of the group. The Greek-Romani vampire turned Laszlo into a vampire and later married him.
Also cohabiting in the vampire household is Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), Nandor’s long-suffering Latino familiar who is also a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing and an expert vampire hunter. Finally, there’s Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), a 100-year-old energy vampire who lives in the basement who lives by draining humans and vampires of their energy by being boring or frustrating.
The best spoofs, satires and parodies are not only great comedies, but they are loving tributes to the original genre they’re making fun of, often becoming great examples of that genre in the process. That is already becoming the case with “What We Do in the Shadows,” which explores a wide array of traditional and modern supernatural lore.
The show’s often absurdist humor and references to other vampire media adds a whole other layer of clever commentary. Because it’s filmed like a documentary, anytime one of the characters mentions what “Twilight” or “Dracula” gets right or wrong about vampires, these vampires seem even more like the real deal.
And yet, when it comes to the everyday things humans deal with, these several-hundred-year-old beings don’t have a clue what’s going on. Although they’ve lived in America since the 1800s, they still have trouble going to the store or making small talk with their human neighbors. When they get invited to a Super Bowl party, they spend the whole episode thinking it’s about a superb owl.
The reason this works so well is that they are so sweet and wholesome characters at heart. Yes, they are ruthless monsters who have to kill to survive, and they’re dumber than a box of rocks, but they have so much confidence and do try to be good and caring that I can’t help but root for them to figure out how to use the internet to send an email.
But the one who really shines and is the heart of the show is Guillermo. As the only human of the core five, he has the same insight as to the audience over how ridiculous and clueless the vampires are, often giving the deadpan stares into the camera as if to say, “Can you believe this?” And yet, he still loves them and the vampire culture so much that watching him develop into their full-fledged bodyguard and the one who keeps their mansion running is pure bliss.
Currently in its third season, “What We Do in the Shadows” has already been renewed for its fourth season to premiere in 2022. Available on FX and on Hulu, the show is an easy watch and worth every minute.