I wasn’t prepared. I simply wasn’t prepared!
See, I spent the first seven minutes of “Private School,” tonight’s installment of What We Do In The Shadows, just sort of smiling along, enjoying the general vampiric silliness—but not necessarily laughing. Baby Colin Robinson is running wild, destroying the house? Neat! Laszlo’s still locked in Proud Dad Mode? It’s a great look for Matt Berry. Nandor’s addicted to magical cosmetic surgery? Sure, that’s a workable C-plot. Really, I was just vibing a bit, already doing a bit of writing in my head, as I prepared to explain how this was a pleasantly B-worthy episode of a show that’s always fun, even when it’s not swinging for the fences.
What I wasn’t prepared for, then, was the scene that kicked off after the first commercial break tonight, the one that makes up the bulk of the episode’s runtime: an increasingly ludicrous school admissions interview with a straight-laced headmaster, which might be the single funniest and most chaotic sequence that this show has ever produced.
I should have guessed that something good was coming, maybe, when Anthony Atamaniuk’s Sean came barging into the house. The whole joke of Sean’s character is the way he forces Nadja, Laszlo, and Nandor into putting on their god-awful impressions of humanity, which are always a delight. But even that didn’t truly prepare me for the moment when Guillermo, already stressed out from reminding the gang that they need to act like “a regular human being who likes doing regular human things,” walks into the parlor and sees the trio in their “human” clothes. He, and we, can only marvel in horror at Laszlo’s Ed Hardy shirt and bucket hat and Nandor’s “ask me about my swing dance club” cosplay ensemble. (Nadja looks fashionable, if out-of-date, as ever, of course.)
If the joke of the subsequent sequence was just “the vampires are bad at being human,” then that would already be pretty solid. That’s almost the entire basis for Jackie Daytona as a character, after all. (To wit: This is a cast that’s extraordinarily good at playing big and broad and they’re never at their biggest or broadest than when loudly informing people how much they like pizza and going outside in the sunlight.) The genius kicks in, though, when the headmaster (Peter Francis James, warm and charming in a straight-man role) immediately trips the crew up by asking who Baby Colin’s parents are. A panicking Nadja busts out her hypnosis to blank the human’s memory and reset the conversation, allowing them a quick re-shuffle, and a do-over. And when they screw that one up, she does it again. And again. And again.
And that, in the parlance of the improv nerds, is how we establish the game here: an increasingly silly set of conversational resets as the vamps try to settle on a family structure that will be most impressive for the increasingly befuddled headmaster (while also constantly forgetting that Sean, in the room because he set up the meeting, actually knows the the truth). And it just escalates! There are multiple points in this 12-minute sequence where the scene could have ended in some minor triumph—Guillermo stepping forward to show that he’s Colin’s actual parent, for instance. But instead of allowing the intensifying absurdity to be cut off, it just keeps barreling ever upwards, until we have Nandor and Laszlo enthusiastically discussing their love of reaming each other, or trying to placate the headmaster’s “star-fucking” tendencies by bringing in Sal Vulcano from “Incomprehensible Jest-hairs” to impress him. (That is, only for Las to immediately lose patience and snap the TruTV star’s neck. What We Do In The Shadows: Serving up the best celebrity cameos on TV for four seasons now and counting.)
Along the way, we get a veritable depot of ’shipper fuel, as all involved continue cycling through pairings to find the most convincing setup. For one brief moment, it feels like we might have reached the button for the scene—Guillermo points out that they could have just hypnotized the headmaster into accepting Colin into the school in the first place—only to have the vamps blow past him (Nadja: “Did this bitch just say what I think he said?!”) and dive even deeper into the wildness. The final montage—Nadja married to Sean, Nadja’s talking doll claiming to be a single mother, Laszlo trying to convince the headmaster that they’re Colin’s fathers, and an attempted pairing between Vulcano’s corpse and a wild skunk—makes absolutely zero sense, in practical terms. But who the fuck cares? It’s some of the most energetic comedy this show has ever generated and it had me clapping my hands with every bizarre twist.
Ultimately, we get to a punchline—the headmaster, who was never that interested in the family situation stuff in the first place, calmly requesting Colin’s transcripts, which of course the vampires do not have—that then gets, in typical WWDITS style, one-upped: The whole endeavor is rendered moot because they gave the poor man a massive stroke with all the repeated brainwashings. (Laszlo: “Most human beings can only take 7 hypnoses per hour. That man went through 428.”)
The actual plot upshot is to reveal (through a little educational bribery) that both Guillermo and Nadja are embezzling from the nightclub, which is the sort of thing that would matter a lot more in a show where continuity existed as anything but a way to set up the next gag. (Although the different ways the duo respond to getting caught—Guillermo nervously offering the camera crew a bribe, and Nadja cheerfully threatening to kill them and everyone they’ve ever loved if they rat on her—do serve as well-observed character notes.)
We end with a quick wrap-up: The vamps are now forcing Baby Colin Robinson to play constant sports to burn off his energy; Nandor spends a wish to de-scrunch his face; we conclude, as all wholesome family sitcoms do, with an annoyed Nandor yelling at Laszlo, “No reaming for you tonight!” Truly, the status quo has been restored. But what a way to get there!
- “The child that crawled out of the abdomen of our dead friend Colin Robinson”—the commitment to finding new ways to explain Baby Colin remains very high.
- “Gizmo, shut the fuck up! We’re doing a piece to cam-er-ah!” Matt Berry, folks.
- Good “acknowledging the camera” gags all over the place tonight, actually.
- Nandor’s djinn-based cosmetic changes are nicely escalated throughout the episode.
- There’s a genuinely sweet moment when Laszlo comforts Baby Colin Robinson after the 143-year-old kid vampires at the club rebuff his attempts to be friends.
- Nadja runs her human impression by Guillermo: “Oh, I love pizza so much!”
“…That’s pretty good.”
- Natasia Demetriou scream-singing “Nine!” after Guillermo fills her in on Colin’s age just slayed me.
- “We are like two French trombones.”
“This guy? I ream him nightly.”
“And I am always sucking him off. They are like ‘Come it’s dinner! Stop sucking off your gay husband!’”
“Which is amusing, because I am dinner. And I just carry on reaming him. Sexually.” Emmys for Kayvan Novak and Matt Berry, please.
- “Burr burr I couldn’t possibly say anything but Lionel fucking Barrymore’s kids might just go here burr burr.” This, this is why I’ve been sad to see Nadja stuck in the most boring plot-lines these last few weeks.
- “What the actual fuck is that? Is that a talking doll?!” Atamaniuk has some fantastic reactions throughout the entire bit.
- The only pairing Laszlo won’t accept: him and Gizmo.