How ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ went from cult film to the funniest new TV series of the year

PASADENA, Calif. – “Thor: Ragnarok” director Taika Waititi and “Flight of the Conchords” co-creator Jemaine Clement have identified a menace terrorizing workplaces and city council meetings around the world.

He’s a vampire, but he doesn’t drink blood. He sucks out your happiness and will to live by telling you endless stories and creepily staring into your cubicle.This horrifying beast is the Energy Vampire in FX comedy “What We Do in the Shadows,” and just one of many reasons to tune in to the series, an early candidate for  funniest new show of 2019.

The comedy (Wednesday, 10 EDT/PDT) is based on the pair’s 2014 film, a mockumentary about a group of hapless vampires bringing their gothic outfits and bloodthirsty habits to 21st century New Zealand. The series moves the action to Staten Island, New York, with a new group of equally hapless vampires, and it seems poised to break out big. Or at least big enough for its creators to notice this time around.

“Even when we were doing (the show) I didn’t realize how (beloved) the movie was,” Clement says. “We didn’t really know. It’s just a little New Zealand film. I didn’t know that it had such a following, really. That’s been a surprise: ‘Oh, a lot of people have watched this!’”

Clement created and wrote much of the series, and Waititi directs some of it, though they don’t appear on screen this time. But rest assured (or in peace) the series is just as brilliant.

Besides Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), the aforementioned Energy Vampire, “Shadows” features crepe-paper-loving Nandor (Kayvan Novak), empathetic Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and pompous Laszlo (Matt Berry) as the undead protagonists.

As in the film, each vampire has a human “familiar,” led by Nandor’s brown-nosing aide Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), and have some trouble adapting to modern life. The quartet lives together in a dank old mansion, sleeps in coffins and is happy wearing gowns and velvet collars and hunting virgins in New York City’s least glamorous borough, until a more intense and motivated vampire from the old country (Doug Jones) arrives and demands they fulfill their destiny by taking over the world.

The new cast has wonderful timing and chemistry, and the setting, including a city council meeting in the second episode, proves a fertile ground for vampiric antics.

“There was a long discussion whether it (also) should be Detroit or New Orleans,” Clement says. “We weren’t going for crappiness, but it had to be somewhere where (it’s questionable if) they should be able to fit in. L.A.’s too sunny, but they would probably be able to fit in (there). People dress like that.”

The vampires in both versions of “Shadows” are more “culture based” than a reflection of geography anyway, Waititi says.

“The culture shock of being so old and trying to keep up with the times and trying to figure out what the Internet is and them being so out of touch: I think that’s where most of the comedy comes from,” Waititi says.

TV and film remakes often face  criticism from hardcore fans, but Waititi and Clement are confident the new comedy will pass the test.

What stays the same is the music, the costumes and the giddily profane and absurdist humor, which includes an extended bit about LARPers (Live Action Role Players), just the kind of virgins the vampires love.

“We’re involved and we’re really heavily (working) on the thing to make sure it feels like the same and keeping with the film,” Waititi says.

“Being that character before was really fun, but you don’t really want to repeat yourself,” he says. “The idea that I’m going to put those teeth on again, put those clothes on again, put that stupid harness on and fly around, (it) made me exhausted just thinking about it.”



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