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Roush Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows' Mashup of the Macabre & Mundane Remains Wonderfully Fresh

I wonder what Barnabas Collins of Dark Shadows infamy would make of the fussy, funky trio of Staten Island vampires who dither and bicker their way through the deliciously droll horror comedy, What We Do in the Shadows. Rolling in his musty grave, no doubt, while we roll off our couch in delight at the antics of these goofy ancient ghouls.

Adapted by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) from their 2014 cult film, the new Shadows moves the action — and sometimes inaction — from New Zealand to the not-so-posh New York City borough. Inside a ramshackle manor resides the undead equivalent of the Three Stooges: Nandor “the Relentless” (Kayvan Novak), a nagging and ineffectual control freak who dates back to the Ottoman Empire, and his romantically entwined roomies, the surly Laszlo (Matt Berry) and jaded seductress Nadja (Natasia Demetriou).

Centuries of coffin-bound cohabitation have only intensified their peevishness, as they argue over house rules and hygiene: “Please finish a whole victim before moving on to a next one, OK?” Nandor begs. But when their dark-lord boss orders them to fulfill their long-dormant mission of world domination — well, Staten Island, anyway — they realize it’s time to get serious. As if.

The series’ mock-documentary format, borrowed from the movie, has grown less novel over time. And yet Shadows’ succulent mashup of the macabre and mundane remains wonderfully fresh, especially in an episode where the vamps attend a deadly boring city council meeting to make their demands known, only to get a lecture on protocol.

Kayvan Novak as Nandor. (John P Johnson/FX)

Adding a human dimension is Nandor’s long-suffering fanboy “familiar” — think: slave — Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), who cleans up their messes while dreaming fruitlessly of being turned immortal. But the show’s most inspired creation is boarder Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), an insidious dullard who’s actually a day-walking “energy vampire,” leeching the vim and vigor from unsuspecting dupes with his Dilbert-like droning. (When he meets his match in Vanessa Bayer’s “emotional vampire” Evie, the lethargic battle that ensues is a hoot.)

In Shadows’ world, werewolves complain of sciatica and monsters rumble atop an abandoned Circuit City store. It might be sad if it weren’t all so horribly funny. 

What We Do in the Shadows, Series Premiere, Wednesday, March 27, 10/9c, FX

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