For the first two seasons, What we do in the shade was a fairly traditional hangout comedy in which the action was occasionally interrupted by a heart-pounding murder. But season 3, the finale of which aired last October, was something of a departure. After a defensive mass victimization by vampire, perpetrated by a known/Van Helsing descendant Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), Nandor vampires (Kayvan Nova) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) started running the regional office of the Vampiric Council and doing office stuff. I’m not against formal experimentation in theory, but the season lost something crucial by silosing characters apart. Who are Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja if they don’t constantly sexually harass each other?!
As we reunite for Season 4, a year after the events of the finale, it looks like everything will be back to normal. Nadja returns from a Council assignment in England, horny as hell. Guillermo also returns, in another coffin, determined to change his life and put himself first. Nadja is disenchanted with the Vampiric Council: great! Now, Nadja wants to turn the Local Council Office’s Curiosities Room into a vampire nightclub and enlists The Guide (Kristen Schaal) in the renovation: o…kay? So we’re still on a sitcom at work half the time? This is not what I come to Staten Island for!
The new season also revives a season 3 plot for Nandor, who sought love in vain with various mortal and non-mortal prospects. After returning to his fictional homeland of Al-Quolanudar and returning treasures, Nandor orders Guillermo to help him find a woman to receive them. Guillermo used to look like he would love to be the love of Nandor’s life, but in the four episodes released to critics before, we get hints that Guillermo’s affections have changed. A character who is silently suffering from an unrequited love is one of sitcoms most carefree devices, so it makes sense to retire it here; but whatever’s newly ignited in Guillermo’s heart takes quite a while to erupt into a real flame, at least as far as the viewer is concerned.
One way the show sets itself apart from other sitcoms is by taking supernatural elements from various folklore traditions and placing them in a contemporary context. For example: energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) challenges an online troll to fight him in person and is confronted by a literal troll. In the new season, Nandor uses a magic lamp from his treasure to summon a jinn (Anoop Desai), appearing in a tweed jacket and Nandor looking down over glasses like an exhausted accountant. The nightclub is eventually manned by The Guide’s platoon of cloaked ghosts, who use their force majeure to stage a workers’ campaign against Nadja’s abusive management. A trip to a night market shows Laszlo to his new neighborhood that fairies and gnomes aren’t as cute as his sanitized fairy tales led him to believe. In this way, shadows has always forced comedy out of the plight of his characters: they are not just transgressive creatures of legends who barely hide their true natures from their human neighbors; they are also jerks who often revive small age-old feuds with other legendary creatures they happen to know.
Back to that department: Viewers will remember that Laszlo left England because there was a creature in the house that needed his attention: a newborn baby, with the face of Colin Robinson, who crawled out of Colin Robinson’s corpse. Laszlo subjects The Boy – who is growing at a supernaturally accelerated rate – to various kinds of psychological conditioning in the belief that The Boy is not only Colin Robinson, but could become the most interesting human being in history. Introducing a child is, reliably, the death knell for most sitcoms, but since this isn’t a conventional kid or a conventional sitcom, let’s hope Colin Robinson’s TV childhood won’t be as tedious as Andy Keaton’s or Mabel Buchman’s. .
Based on what I’ve seen of the new season so far, the biggest problem with the previous one remains: there’s little interaction outside of the Nadja/The Guide, Nandor/Guillermo, and Laszlo/Colin dyads. I hope the rest of the season gets them mixed up; I’d love to see more of Guillermo sorting out Colin, or Nadja getting involved in the search for Nandor’s wife, or Laszlo inserting himself into the nightclub operation. But even if the episodes I’ve seen so far continue to mix the same characters in discrete stories, they also leave a lot of interesting trail for the rest of the season. What happened to that Goth kid from Wisconsin in all of Nandor’s vacation snaps? Who is Guillermo’s secret phone friend? What is Will the boy be like an adult? Mild complaints could never stop me from finding out — and what a gift it is to live in a time when an undead sitcom can thrive.