NYCC ’18: The WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS TV Team Talk New Cast, New Vampires And More

If you loved the movie—and who didn’t—you’re gonna love the show.

The folks from FX asked that journalists not review the pilot for the What We Do in the Shadows TV series shown at New York Comic-Con over the weekend. We are allowed to share our “impressions,” however, and this writer’s impression is that, on evidence of this first episode, creators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have very successfully recaptured the spirit of their modern-classic vampire-comedy feature. There are plenty of great lines and throwaway gags (“Fingers crossed” floored me), plus Doug Jones as a monstrous character under very impressive prosthetics.

Clement, who wrote the pilot, and Waititi, who directed it, were joined on the Shadows panel by fellow executive producer Paul Simms, who told the audience, “When Jemaine said they were going to do a TV version, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s great, ‘cause I love you and Taika in the movie.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, well, we’re not going to be in it.’ [Laughter] But then the cast we found is so great.”

The new ensemble is headed by three new Euro bloodsuckers sharing a Staten Island apartment: Matt Berry as Laszlo, Kayvan Novak as Nandor and Natasia Demetriou as Nadja (yes, indie-vampire fans, she’s named after Michael Almereyda’s black-and-white 1994 flick). The presence of Berry, a cult favorite from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The IT Crowd and others, found particular favor with the crowd. “I had written the part for him,” Clement revealed. “It’s always good, especially doing [something like] this, and trying to think of how to make it different enough and yet the same enough. I’d always pictured him as playing that part, and then I was in a movie with him [Jim Hosking’s An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn], and I had to quietly say, ‘I’m writing a part for you in a thing.’ He was interested from the start.”

There’s actually a fourth housemate: Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch from The Office, Tim & Eric et al.), a balding and boring “energy vampire” who sucks the life right out of the room and anyone he talks to. “I think we all know a Colin Robinson!” Clement said. “We hadn’t thought of anything like that for the movie, but when I was reading about different kinds of vampires, there was one that people mentioned as a real type that existed and we all come up against. And then I could think of conversations I’ve had where I’ve been trapped by someone—and probably people have felt like that with me, I don’t know! But everyone who watches this says, ‘We have someone in our office who’s like that.’ ”

As for whether any other supernatural beings will show up on the series, Clement teased, “We have one other that’s specific to this show coming up, and then probably some other ones you’re more familiar with.” And what about guest appearances by his and Waititi’s movie characters? “Only if something really disastrous happens,” he quipped. “It has to be of incredible import.”

It is, after all, a long way from the feature’s setting of Wellington, New Zealand to Staten Island, a locale the show creators arrived at after considering Los Angeles (ultimately vetoed for being too sunny) and Detroit (too familiar from Jim Jarmusch’s recent Only Lovers Left Alive). “We wanted the idea that the vampires had, maybe 200 years ago, been sent to conquer America,” Simms explained, “but had sort of lost their way and been forgotten. They’d gotten to New York, and that’s where the boat dropped them off, and they never went any further.”

The vamps will make their way to the big city, he added: “In one of the episodes we’re going to shoot soon, they venture into Manhattan for the first time. They’ve assumed that Staten Island is all of New York, or maybe all of America, but there’s a whole story where they meet the Manhattan vampires—who are a little bit cooler than they are.”

Like the movie, the Shadows series plays in mock-documentary form; our “host” is Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), a “familiar” who’s been serving Nandor for a decade in hopes that Nandor will turn him into a full-fledged vampire. Not only is he a very funny guide through this strange world, but his humanity offsets the trio’s monstrous activities. “When I was writing the pilot,” Clement said, “I was thinking that they’re all murderers, so we needed someone to balance that. Guillermo will have to wrestle, of course, with the idea that when he becomes a vampire—if he does—he’ll have to do those things.”

The bloodshed becomes comedically over-the-top at a couple of points in the pilot, and determining how far to push the horrific content has been part of the ongoing creative process. “We’ve figured it out as we’ve gone along,” Simms said. “There was a part in this when Guillermo’s showing the virgins around the house, and they open the door to where all the victims are being kept. Originally—and in the script we thought it was very funny—they had the dates they’d been drunk written on their foreheads. Then when we cut it together, it looked so grim and gruesome.”

FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, which is set to premiere next April, joins the series Wellington Paranormal and the forthcoming feature We’re Wolves in what Waititi joked is “a universe to rival that of Marvel and DC, [though] what we’re doing is taking one idea and stretching it out.” One member of the Comic-Con crowd asked if a little bit of Clement’s Flight of the Conchords might creep in as well, in the form of song interludes. Clement answered, “Matt Berry plays a lot of music and he makes his own albums, so his character plays music quite often. When he’s playing the organ [in the pilot], he’s actually playing it, and just made it up on the spot. I don’t know if there will be any songs, as in a musical number. Perhaps in season seven; that’s when you start doing that.”