A big part of the comedy behind What We Do in the Shadows is simply how boring things can get for those who live forever. Its quartet of vampire roommates in Staten Island are centuries old and also hilariously mundane; an episode of the series is generally built around them learning about something new.
At least, that’s how it is now. With its fifth season premiering this week, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows is firmly in its hangout era. Previous seasons had a bit more, shall we say, bite — it was always a joke machine first and foremost, but it also had compelling things to say about America for those who cared to dig into such things. Of the first few episodes of season 5 that were made available to critics, each is built around a new thing for the vampire crew to try for the first time, like the mall or a guys’ night.
It’s a bit of a normcore reset following last season’s increased focus on hijinks. Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) are back to their bickering status quo, energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is back to normal after a season-long rebirth and working in the service industry, and everyone is ignoring Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nandor’s loyal familiar.
Guillermo, however, is the biggest change to the show’s status quo this season, with the premiere focusing on the fallout from last season’s cliffhanger, in which he asked a friend to turn him into a vampire after growing impatient with Nandor’s endless promises. It’s here, with Guillermo, where What We Do in the Shadows is most fun, as the unintended consequences of his request begin to spill out and complicate the show’s set dynamics.
Otherwise, What We Do in the Shadows has managed to stay funny, but it also feels less focused. Where in previous seasons an episode may have left you wanting more (Laszlo’s short-lived “Jackie Daytona” alias, for example), season 5 feels full of missed opportunities. The mall in the premiere? We don’t spend much time in it. Colin Robinson working a service job? Mentioned only in passing. An episode centered on a Pride parade — something the show should be having a field day with — cedes far too much time to what might be the series’ least funny subplot.
Yet none of this feels like an existential threat to the show, because What We Do in the Shadows’ incredibly strong cast has such a rock-solid grasp on their characters. Its funniest moments are often when Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja just start roasting each other (or Colin Robinson), because by this point they’re about as well-established with the audience as they are with each other.
It’s the most the show has felt like a traditional sitcom, but a very good one. In this version of the show, the characters are mostly just having fun: Laszlo impersonates Nandor in one cold open, Nandor is criticized for using hypnosis so much that the entire borough of Staten Island might be getting “dumber and dumber,” and Nadja’s ghost doll (it’s complicated) tries to get a new body she can have sex in — from a Build-a-Bear Workshop.
Perhaps What We Do in the Shadows could use the kind of catalyzing kick that a proper ending would bring, but the sitcom-y mode the show has fallen into isn’t the worst thing for now. Living forever can be fun. It can also get old.