‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Season 4 Review: The Peak of its Powers

Co-showrunners Stefani Robinson and Paul Simms blend a love for the absurd with refined comedic composition, producing their best run of episodes yet.

Within structure, create chaos.

While likely not “What We Do in the Shadows’” guiding mantra, the above has proven to be a winning formula for the FX comedy. Over three-plus seasons, Jemaine Clement’s creation does utilize various rules. The series follows its cinematic predecessor’s mockumentary structure, relying on a small group of documentarians to tell the story of four vampire roommates and their familiar-turned-bodyguard, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). Similarly, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) must abide by their own laws of survival (and vampire society) as they make the most of life in Staten Island. There’s also the classic sitcom structure that provides rules of its own — from runtimes to joke buttons, character arcs to inciting incidents, A-plots to C-plots — but let’s not get too far into these weeds.

The chaos is where sparks fly. During a Season 4 fight scene, Guillermo uses the unseen camera operator as a human shield — literally integrating the show’s documentary format into the action. Last year’s season finale introduced an outstanding twist on vampire canon, when Colin’s death spawned another energy vampire that looks just like him, just, as a baby. Not only did this development flex the kind of creative ingenuity that can be applied to laws governing fictional species, but it also provided an enticing sitcom set-up: an orphaned child raised by unsuspecting parents. While Laszlo knew Colin’s 100th birthday party would be his last, he was taken aback by Baby Colin and decided to stay in America to raise him, even as his wife and bodyguard moved to England.

Season 4 picks up a year later, with a premiere tellingly titled “Reunited,” and all these carefully orchestrated scenarios pay off with outrageous glee. “What We Do in the Shadows” found its groove quickly over the three previous seasons, but I don’t think it’s ever had a run of A-level episodes like the first four here. Co-showrunners Stefani Robinson and Paul Simms have the show humming at the peak of its powers — and the blast they must be having behind the scenes easily carries over to the audience enjoying the team’s magnificent work.

Spoiling good jokes is the surest path to hell, so I’ll keep this relatively brief (and specific to public talking points). Baby Colin, called simply “The Boy” throughout Season 4, is a brilliant creation who fully lives up to Adult Colin’s fan-favorite status. Using Mark Proksch’s face mapped on to various child actors, there’s an internal debate among the roommates (and Guillermo) as to whether the creature that crawled out of the chest cavity of Colin Robinson is, in fact, still Colin, or if he’s a blank canvas ready to be colored in by his new guardians. Laszlo, who’s assumed primary caregiver duties, firmly believes the latter and aims to build The Boy into a man/vampire that no one would ever call “boring.”

In some ways, Laszlo and The Boy’s dynamic is fresh and invigorating. “What We Do in the Shadows” hasn’t really dealt with parent-child relations before, which makes each educational outing a delightful endeavor. But in other ways, “Shadows” is simply building off a successful dynamic established in Season 3, when Laszlo befriended Colin as a means to make his final days that much better. The subject of their banter is different — Laszlo wants to train a partner in crime, while The Boy wants to play with Legos — but viewers can still enjoy Matt Berry playfully chiding a roommate he considers beneath him, while inadvertently forming a real emotional bond.

Robinson and Simms keep mining gold from similarly limitless resources elsewhere. Nandor has reached a point where he’ll refer to Guillermo as a friend, but the bodyguard is starting to itch for a little more independence. The push and pull of their natural camaraderie and nagging external factors infuses their joint adventures with a crackling tension — not too much to break up the buddy duo, but enough to make a fracture possible at any moment. (How they resolve Nandor’s solo departure at the end of last season is quick, simple, and well-suited for his inevitable reunion with Guillermo.)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Season 4 “The Lamp” -- Season 4, Episode 2 (Airs July 12) — Pictured: Matt Berry as Laszlo, Kristen Schaal as The Guide. CR: Russ Martin: FX

Matt Berry and Kristen Schaal in “What We Do in the Shadows”

Russ Martin / FX

That leaves Nadja. When we last saw the 500-year-old Grecian vampire, she was off to London to join the Supreme Worldwide Vampiric Council. In certain shows, such a monumental assignment would deman exploration — at least an episode or two spent learning the night-walkers’ goings-on across the pond and seeing how Nadja fits in with her new colleagues, kind of like when Jim transferred to Stamford on “The Office.” But the “WWDITS” team recognizes Nadja for what she truly is: the wild card. She’s survived this long and lived this fully not by doing what’s expected of her, but by doing whatever the heck she wants.

When she doesn’t like Jeff (Jack McDorman), the Season 1 reincarnation of her centuries-dead ex-lover, she uses mind control to make him behave more like Gregor, consequences be damned. When the roommates tried to help their human ghosts transition to a peaceful afterlife, Nadja convinced hers to possess a lookalike doll, who still travels with Nadja wherever she goes. When the Supreme Vampiric Council made a surprise visit to check on the Vampiric Council of the Eastern Seaboard of the New World — led by Nandor and Nadja — and Nandor refused to participate, Nadja said she killed him and then let her guests play with his penis. She does not give a fuck and, bless her immortal soul, it’s fangtastic entertainment.

So what does she do in Season 4? She opens a night club. Why? Don’t worry about it. All that matters is she’s intensely excited to do so, and you should be just as excited to see what that entails. “What We Do in the Shadows” is in that precious TV sweet spot: old enough to draw from its own experience, and young enough to be emboldened by its enduring potential. With an excellent cast, veteran producers, and immaculate craft work, there’s a winning method to this madness — so sit back and enjoy the show.

Grade: A

“What We Do in the Shadows” Season 4 premieres two new episodes Tuesday, July 12 at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Episodes will be released weekly and available on Hulu the next day.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

Related Posts