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SXSW 2019 TV Premiere: Bloody Funny Comedy ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Vampires! The word conjures up horrifying images of undead creatures on the hunt, transforming into bats and wolves, and terrifying the inhabitants of small Balkan villages. But what are their lives like when they are not on the prowl, and what if they lived on Staten Island? That is what is explored the hilarious new series What We Do in the Shadows, which premiered at the SXSW Conference taking place in Austin from March 8-17. The conference celebrates music, film, and the interaction of culture and technology.

What we do in the shadows
Even a vampire needs to go shopping. (photo by FX)

What We Do in the Shadows arose from the insane genius of Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and actor/writer/director Taika Waititi. New Zealander Waititi most recently directed Disney’s Thor: Ragnarok, which has made over $850 million worldwide. Other credits include Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Boy, and the film version of What We Do in the Shadows.

Both the film and episodic versions of What We Do in the Shadows fall into the category of “mockumentary”. This format pretends to be a documentary with a camera crew following participants, sometimes using archival footage, and satirizes its subject and sometimes the documentary format itself. The style goes back to the 1950s and was popularized in the 1980s by This is Spinal Tap.

what we do in the shadows
Natasia Demetrio and Matt Berry sit beneath portraits of their characters from a few hundred years ago (photo by FX)

Both versions are hilarious and, given the more limited time on the pilot, not all the themes from the movie could be included, but I am confident that the TV version will come through and expand on the satirical explorations of the original. Of particular comedic impact in the pilot was the introduction of an entirely new type of vampire, played by Mark Proksch, who played Nate on The Office. There’s no way I can give you a hint about the new-style vampire without spoiling the joke, other than to say this is a vampire we’ve all met, and it is over-the-top funny.

While on the red carpet in front of Austin’s Paramount theater, cast and crew joked about who they’d like to guest star on future episodes of the show. Waititi wanted Antonio Banderas. Writer Stefani Robinson wanted Nicholas Cage. I particularly liked the suggestion from Matt Berry, who plays vampire Laszlo. He wanted to use digital magic to bring all-time scariest vampire actor Christopher Lee to the show.

After the screening, cast and crew participated in a question-and-answer session on the stage of the Paramount. Waititi gave a clue to the origin of the show’s crazy humor when he came on stage, pointed to the audience in the 1,200-seat Paramount, and yelled, “Wait, there’s eight empty seats! We’re not doing this!” But he relented and they went on.

One of the questions form the audience was why the creators chose Staten Island as the locale. Clement explained that if you were arriving in North America 300 years ago, there weren’t that many options.

Creators Jemaine Clement, left, and Taika Waititi answer audience questions in Austin (photo by author)

Another fan asked about werewolves, which were problems for the vampires in the movie, but not in the pilot. Waititi said that he couldn’t say. But that seemed like a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” answer.

The best moment to come out of the audience Q&A was when a fangirl announced that next week she was having a What We Do in the Shadows-themed wedding. If it’s after dark, I’m not going.

What We Do in the Shadows will haunt your world courtesy of the FX Network beginning March 27. You can watch the preview below.

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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