“Nothing ever changes in this house and nothing is going to change unless I change it,” the aspiring vampire Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) concluded in the season 4 finale of What We Do in the Shadows, setting up a cliffhanger by deciding to pay his own way into the ranks of the undead. The bold decision might not turn out the way Guillermo hoped, but it was certainly a good move for the show, which has shaken up the dynamics between its vampire roommates but stayed true to the core of who they are as season 5 gets off to a refreshing start.
Season 5 begins soon after Guillermo bribed vampire hunter-turned-vampire Derek (Chris Sandiford) to transform him. What We Do in the Shadows has gotten plenty of comedy mileage from its over-the-top portrayals of the sexual charge found in vampire stories, and it goes even wilder with Derek and Guillermo’s “first time,” turning the experience into a deeply awkward, blood-soaked mess.
Things only get worse for Guillermo after that, and Guillén masterfully navigates the developments with his signature mix of deadpan and exasperation. Whether it’s because Derek is an inept, mentorless vampire who spends most of his time cleaning toilets or Guillermo is a vampire hunter who decided at the last moment he didn’t feel ready to become undead, his transformation is stunted, manifesting erratically with an absurd and grotesque mix of CGI and prosthetics reminiscent of the cat with a human face from What We Do in the Shadows’ cinematic predecessor. As Guillermo seeks answers, he discovers he’s also violated the vampire hierarchy in a way that’s so taboo it has never been mentioned before – a sly way for showrunner Paul Simms and the series’ writers to acknowledge they’re making up the rules of vampire society as they go along.
Guillermo’s problems are the most consistently funny thread in the first four episodes of the new season, particularly once Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry) gets involved and starts using the same quack science he employed last season when studying the reborn, rapidly growing energy vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch). It’s a shame how quickly the show has forgotten the attachment Laszlo formed to “The Boy” – he quickly returns to disdaining Colin as he did before his death – but Laszlo’s willingness to pour himself fully into whatever project catches his fancy is always charming. An experiment conducted with the help of ancient vampire Baron Afanas (Doug Jones) is emblematic of the shock value the show mines by disrupting the mundane with hilarious amounts of gore.
The transformation also shifts Guillermo’s relationship with his vampire master Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), who is clumsily seeking new ways to alternately please, impress, or replace his increasingly distant familiar. Nandor throwing Guillermo an awkward birthday dinner is wonderfully silly stuff, but his obsessive attempts to befriend a Jewish man he meets at the gym feel a bit too much like Family Guy’s controversial “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” episode. After Nandor’s failed attempts to find love last season and Guillermo coming out, the show may finally be ready to turn their relationship romantic in season 5.
While Baby Colin became a more entertaining character as season 4 went on, season 5 stronger now that Proksch’s character is back to his wryly annoying self. The reset provides him an opportunity to try new frontiers of draining people, with Colin leaving his office job to become an inept waiter – opening up a fresh range of comically awful interactions. He also returns to his passion for government bureaucracy with a predictably disastrous but consistently funny run for office that draws on the show’s deep reservoir of past guest stars.
Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) remains as self-obsessed as ever, blaming everyone but herself for the failure of her vampire nightclub last season. The Guide (Kristen Schaal) gets her own spot in the credits this season, but so far she’s mostly focused on trying to win Nadja’s friendship as a way of potentially weaseling her way into the vampire house. The best version of this is a Freaky Friday-inspired plot that lets Demetriou really show off her physical acting chops while finding a good use for the doll containing Nadja’s mortal ghost, which has been one of the show’s less effective recurring gags.
The body swapping occurs during the third episode of the season, “Pride,” which also features Nandor flying into space, experiments on Guillermo, and the whole gang being called in as consultants for a Pride parade organized by their living neighbor Sean Rinaldi (Anthony Atamanuik) because they’re “literally the gayest things on the block.” The result is a beautiful, chaotic, and triumphant mess where even Guillermo momentarily puts aside his misgivings to just enjoy his first Pride. It’s the show at its best, with all the bizarre and silly drama between its ensemble coming together to show why these vampires are willing to spend eternity together – and why What We Do in the Shadows remains such a fun show to watch.