What We Do In The Shadows rarely goes for the Big Feelings and almost never as the easy escape hatch so many TV comedies tend to treat them as—playing the “We’re all really a family here!” card whenever some cheap emotion, or even just an episode-ending hug, finds itself in sudden demand. Partly, that’s because the show is simply too good to pursue that low-hanging fruit too readily, unwilling to claim an “Aw!” when it could seize a guffaw instead. Partly, it’s because it’s a little tricky to sell the sweetness of a coterie of inhuman, people-devouring murderers on all but the rarest of occasions. And partly, it’s because everyone living in the Vampire Residence (except, maybe, Nadja) is so fucked up that actually expressing themselves is usually a lot more difficult than just decapitating something/one and calling it a night.
That latter point comes front and center in “Pine Barrens,” which sets itself to answering a question that the show’s never really bothered to address in its four seasons on the air—that is, why don’t Nandor and Laszlo hang out much? The two of them have been friends and roommates for eons at this point, they comfortably talked about reaming and sucking each other just a few weeks back, and they have a ton in common—but it’s been very rare to ever have the two of them spending time together one-on-one.
From a critical point of view, the answer to this conundrum is kind of obvious: Although Matt Berry and Kayvan Novak bring very different energies to their respective bloodsuckers, they nevertheless both tend to operate in a similar comedic niche. That is, they’re big, loud personalities with massive blindspots that the people around them are typically forced to navigate. Whether we’re talking about Nandor’s childish misunderstandings, or Laszlo’s caddish indifference, both of these guys are wrecking balls, and they tend to work best when paired up opposite characters capable of a bit of gentle steering.
Which is exactly what the two of them are deprived of tonight, as Laszlo and Nandor head off into the woods with nothing but Baby Colin, a terrifically miserable Sean (still Anthony Atamaniuk, now deep into an amazing run of guest appearances this season), and a whole lot of firearms to “distract” them from their alpha-male posturing. It’s thus sort of amazing that this plotline—which involves one of our main characters shooting the other one, a couple of sincere heart-to-hearts, and the actual, literal balls of the actual, literal Jersey Devil—is still not the most dramatic or entertaining part of tonight’s episode.
No, that honor goes to the events back at the house, where the hook for the better portion of tonight’s episode is set up through a pair of dueling monologues from Guillermo and Nadja—both of whom, we swiftly realize, now believe that they’ve got the place to themselves for the weekend. For Nadja, that means literal blood baths, Meryl Streep, and a girl’s night with Marwa, The Guide, and “Doll With The Spirit Of Deceased Human Nadja Inhabiting It”; for Guillermo, it means finally inviting his family over to the house, something he’s been “putting off…for like 12 years?”
There are, obviously, about five million different ways this could have gone wrong, once these two plans for self-fulfillment inevitably slam into each other. So huge kudos to writer Sarah Naftalis for picking one I never saw coming. As it turns out, once Nadja gets over the twin indignities of being introduced—thanks to years of Guillermo’s lies to his family—as both his girlfriend and his maid, she turns out to be utterly charmed by the de la Cruz clan. (Really, I cannot say enough about how much fun Natasia Demetriou is in these scenes; she has an amazing comedic secret weapon in her ability to project Nadja’s total delight at things, whether it’s the musical stylings of Mamma Mia!, or Guillermo’s sweet abuela.)
No, the threat here actually comes from that sweet abuela—plus the rest of the family, as proximity to Nadja triggers their own versions of Guillermo’s vampire-hunting familial instincts. In a tremendous flipping of expectations, they’re soon ripping off their clothes, instinctively grabbing the nearest piece of “sharp wood,” and pursuing a terrified Nadja through the house. (Meanwhile, the girls upstairs are still debating whether Pierce Brosnan is going to turn out to be Amanda Seyfried’s secret dad.) It’s extremely funny to see the usually unflappable Nadja on the run from a pack of elderly stake-bearing women, and it gives Guillermo a genuine outlet for those Big Feelings I was just saying this show doesn’t really do: Throwing himself between his birth family and his adopted one, he finds the courage to come out as both a vampire wannabe, and a gay man, at last. (His relatives are completely supportive on the latter point, not so much the “killing and eating people” part, though.) And, sure, Nadja ends up wiping their brains of most of this after Guillermo talks her out of eating them. But it’s still a lovely moment, especially for a show that knows how to use them sparingly.
Meanwhile, The Boys finally—after a little light gunfire, and some heavy accusations of jabroni-hood—manage to admit that they mostly just miss hanging out with each other. Then the Jersey Devil shows up, Baby Colin Robinson saves the day with some Jon Bon Jovi, and Matt Berry gives what may be the single best/weirdest line reading of his whole career. (“Nandoor? I’ve been double crossed by the deveell?!”) The antics in the woods can’t quite live up to Nadja giving a monologue about her whole family dying in a series of bizarre misfortunes. (“It’s not great. I watched my uncle Andreas get crushed to death by a donkey. And the donkey was his wife. And then she, the donkey, died of alcohol poisoning.”) Or her admitting that she mostly spares Guillermo’s family because if she doesn’t, she’s worried he’s going to start calling her “Mommy.” But if the worst you can say about the lesser plotline of an episode of TV is that it’s merely very good, instead of being as transcendently funny as its counterpart, then you know you’re in damn fine company.
- Nandor and Laszlo both carrying copies of their decades-old renters’ contract on their persons is both very funny and an excellent reminder of that Newsradio episode where Bill is revealed to always keep a copy of his contract on hand, too. A duet of pleasures!
- Okay, yes, the episode-ending hug with Guillermo’s family was actually pretty sweet.
- “That kid looks like the spitting image of Colin Robinson. It’s like little baby Dilbert over here!”
- I don’t know how Laszlo doesn’t think Baby Colin is pure energy vampire already—describing Roblox games to uncaring adults feels like classic EV M.O.
- Sorry, that’s “the small weird creature that clawed its way out of the abdominal cavity of our deceased former friend Colin Robinson.”
- “It’s always sad when a Polish fellow gets cataracts.”
- Between the dark asides about watching things die and sleeping with a presumably loaded shotgun pointed at his face, I’m starting to think Sean might not be okay, folks!
- “Well, I like to go into the basement in the house and smash holes into the wall with a hammer, like really hard, just over and over again, just smashing and smashing and smashing and I can’t help it, it makes me feel good.” A very good delivery from Mark Proksch (who has a low-key great episode tonight), but I can’t help but wonder: Is there a deeper reason Baby Colin has a compulsive need to smash up the basement walls? I suspect there might be some big revelation coming, maybe when Laszlo finally brings in the Go Flip Yourself guys to renovate the house.
- It’s genuinely nice seeing Nadja, the Guide, Marwa, and Doll Nadja having a blast together. And god, Demetriou’s Matt Berry impression just slayed me.
- Sean describes the Jersey Devil: “He’s got dragon wings and a half goat/horse face, with a chinstrap beard like an Amish. And he’s got hooves and horns and two low-hanging balls with a button cock on top.” Laszlo, whispering: “Fantastic!”
- Guillermo, don’t try to call Daphne Moon a maid in front of your Aunt Valeria; woman knows her Frasier lore.
- Guillermo succinctly sums up his realization that Nadja is now sitting at the dinner table with a bunch of people genetically prone to vampire hunting: “Which makes it…a not-a so gooood.” (Harvey Guillen really nails the delivery.)
- “Surprise, surprise, the talk suddenly turns to Laszlo and he puts his titty-mag down!”
- Sean, after he finally manages to shoot himself after a weekend of very poor gun safety: “Fucking Jersey!”
- “I mean, who isn’t gay?”