The fourth season of FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” was undeniably funny, but it felt at times like the writers were on the verge of losing their way, either with increasingly ridiculous plotlines that hid some of the strengths of the ensemble—while the “new Colin” arc was clever, it wore out its welcome—or repetitive bits that felt like echoes of things done better in the past. The good news is that the first four episodes of the new season—all that was sent to press for review—are consistently funny in a way that feels like the creative prime of the show again. Once again, the writers are taking what we know and love about these characters and spinning those concepts off in new directions. Guillermo’s wish to become immortal, Laszlo’s massive ego, Nandor’s awkwardness, Colin’s draining energy level, and Nadja’s need to be liked are all foregrounded in these four episodes in the way that great comedies take familiar characters and lean into what fans know and love about them. Most of all, it’s just funny, especially a fourth episode that features a cameo-heavy sequence that’s among the best in the history of the show. After season four, there was some concern about how long this joke could go on. At least at the start of season five, it’s back to feeling immortal again.
A show like “What We Do in the Shadows” can be hard to review without spoiling some of the best bits, so this review will be a little vague and a little brief. At the start of the season, Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) has finally been granted what he’s been looking for all these years: he’s been made a vampire. Well, sort of. Maybe. He’s not sure. Let’s just say that Guillermo didn’t get turned by his master Nandor (Kayvan Novak), which is apparently the kind of vampire etiquette no-no that could get him killed. Laszlo (Matt Berry) discovers his secret and endeavors to figure out exactly what’s going on with Nandor’s familiar before his roommate does.
Meanwhile, Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) realizes that she’s been hexed, leading her to a neighborhood that allows her to feel like she’s finally back in her home country. A subplot with her doll is a little less successful, but the material in “Little Antipaxos” is some of the most consistently funny of the new season. Even better is Colin Robinson’s (Mark Proksch) best episode in years as the energy vampire runs for office. There are many opportunities to drain people’s souls at endless debates and soulless campaign stops. Finally, the always-welcome Kristen Schaal is a consistent presence again this season, trying to figure out where she fits into this close-knit group of weirdoes.
The writers on “What We Do in the Shadows” this season know precisely how to play to the strengths of their incredible cast. The show has reached a point wherein fans smile at the very concept before the joke even reaches its punchline. How awkward would Nandor be while trying to make a new friend? What would Laszlo do when asked to host a Pride parade? The plot description of the season premiere is brilliantly simple: “The vampires discover the mall.” Again, the fifth season of a show like “What We Do in the Shadows” shouldn’t be reinventing itself. The best comedies this long into their run have writers who know how to play to their characters’ strengths without feeling overly repetitive. When Nandor and the gang discover the mall, the episode hits familiar beats to other encounters between the vamps and the residents of Staten Island but stays fresh enough to avoid getting stale.
One of the reasons the new episodes work is how comfortably the cast has settled into these roles and allowed their characters to develop over the years. Guillen is more playful than ever, invigorated by a hysterical twist on Guillermo’s dream coming true. It’s great to have Proksch back in complete Colin form, whether it’s in the most awkward sex scene in the history of the show or the aforementioned campaign subplot. Berry, Demetriou, Novak, and Schaal—this show doesn’t get enough credit for having one of the best ensembles of the 2020s regarding comic timing.
Of course, anyone who didn’t find “What We Do in the Shadows” funny for its first four seasons is unlikely to be turned by the fifth, but that really shouldn’t be how a show is judged at this point in its legacy. FX executives don’t need to worry about converting new comedy fans into creatures of the night as much as holding onto the ones who already believe. Based on the quality of the first four episodes of the new season, they can sleep well at night. [B+]