‘What We Do In The Shadows’ Season 4: Review – The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Let’s be clear here — “What We Do In The Shadows” is a modern-day sitcom. At no point I am denigrating the aspects of a genre of television that has been around for decades, but it does stand to reason that the presence of a genre in the zeitgeist invariably leads to the formation of tropes. Such tropes are almost colloquial in their universality. Be it the boorish man who has to become a reluctant father to a baby, the reinforcement of a family unit, or the odd couple sensibilities, these are tropes that are very much recognizable, even if they are hidden under the garb of the irreverent and downright hilarious vampire mockumentary that is the fourth season of “What We Do In The Shadows.”

Mild spoilers for the fourth season might follow. Read the review only after you have watched the full season.

As the fourth season begins, we find Lazlo trying to raise the “baby Colin Robinson” that had crawled out of the dead Colin Robinson at the end of the third season. The house has become dilapidated. A branch of a tree has crashed through one of the walls of the house, and the sewage system is a mess, which has flooded the basement. But Lazlo is having a grand old time with the baby Colin Robinson, until Nadja and Nandor come back from their respective trips, with an exasperated Guillermo trapped in a wooden crate for two weeks, which has already been shipped back to the house.

But people expecting wondrous character development stemming from a year of absence are bound to be disappointed. The thesis statement of the show is that, irrespective of the absurdist humor that is a staple of the show and its central tonality, the more things change, the more they remain the same. And while stasis is an integral part of the DNA of the sitcom genre in general, it is almost a fundamental exercise in self-awareness that the stasis lies more in the characters of the vampires themselves. In fiction, immortal beings such as vampires or elves are process twenty years of their life like a blink of an eye. Even Nandor jokes in the final episode that he has regained his love of reading books and might continue doing that, but not for a long time, say 15 or 20 years. The irony is that Guillermo, as a character, who has been introduced as the familiar to Nandor and whose sole purpose is to become a vampire, is also part of the Van Helsing bloodline, which inundated him with a natural ability to kill vampires. It is profoundly hilarious that even the show acknowledges incremental character development for the humans in this world. Guillermo has a boyfriend he meets in England named Freddie, who in the ninth episode, due to Nandor’s jealousy and resultant shenanigans, finally leaves Guillermo for the duplicate version of himself (watch the episode to believe it). The show, however, chooses to both sympathize as well as laugh at Guillermo’s own choice of finally leaving the house without much fanfare. It serves as a method of escaping the vicious cycle and leaving the vampiric world where change occurs in minuscule amounts even as outrageous events threaten to break the very weird reality these characters live in. But then Guillermo chooses to take matters into his own hands, to finally become a vampire by paying another to turn him. The path back to freedom forces him to accept the world of stasis.

The cooky and weird humor of “What We Do In The Shadows” is interminably linked to the world-building of the show and the sarcasm-laced dialogues. Newer areas like The Night Market, a host to disgusting or creepy versions of characters from fairy tales, where a barter system still exists as the only method of procurement, maintain the verisimilitude of a world where the nightclub Nadjas exists. Run by the eponymous Nadja, whose newest obsession this season is to build a nightclub similar to the one in “Blade” with the blood sprinklers. But as the writers try to dive into the workplace comedy subgenre, there are hits as well as misses. The guide’s idea to resurrect famous dead souls (Gandhi, Hemingway) to run as guests during a podcast hour leads to a hilarious moment of Gandhi reading a Blue Apron ad. While that could be taken as a hit, inviting famous directors like Sofia Coppola and Jim Jarmusch, then showing Copolla being murdered and Jarmusch reacting with surprise at the “very real special effects” is an ultimately inspired miss. The choice to bring Jarmusch in is again one of those moments where the show knows how to use cameos. However, the show’s effort to lampoon home improvement shows by essentially crafting an episode like the fictional home improvement show “What the Flip” felt like an exercise in self-indulgence and thus ran the unthinkable course of almost becoming boring. A similar instance happened in Season 4 of The Rookie, where one episode essentially lampooned “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” by shooting it in a similar style. This episode of “What We Do In The Shadows” manages to surpass itself by introducing a twist you truly wouldn’t see coming, but it all feels effectively like a large thud.

But it’s the emotional poignancy contained within these incremental character beats amidst the trappings of the sitcom genre that makes “What We Do In The Shadows” Season 4 so memorable. Be it Nandor’s superfluous attempts at finding love, by resurrecting his thirty-seven dead wives through the help of a djinn, and then slowly and steadily removing them from the equation. The character arc of Nandor the Relentless, an undead vampire who is still searching for emotional closure, chooses to transform his wife Marwa into a clone of Guillermo’s boyfriend “Freddie” (for spite? for jealousy?) It is fascinating. It is also appreciated that queer love is treated with as much normalcy as any other relationship in this strange, weird world. The heart of the show, though, lies in the eventual melting of Lazlo as a character and becoming a father to the young growing version of Colin Robinson, as he fast forwards through childhood, puberty, and young adulthood. This is why, when the inevitable happens, we are left reeling, because we are left with that same feeling of loss that Lazlo feels, and Matt Berry is fantastic in this, in a cast of extremely gifted and talented actors firing on all cylinders. The overall writing of the show feels too over-reliant on sitcom tropes, but at no point does the show feel like it is running out of ideas. On the contrary, it almost feels like a commentary on the audience’s expectation to mine enjoyment from characters whose arcs only matter for a single episode in a sitcom. It wasn’t very effectively done, but it was still well done, nonetheless.

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Amartya Acharya
Amartya Acharya
Amartya is a true cinephile who loves to explore the horizons of films and literature. He loves to write about them when not getting overwhelmed.
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