There are three things that typically make What We Do In The Shadows one of the best comedies on TV: the presence of one of the most talented comedy casts currently working, an absurd and fantastic premise that the show is never afraid to exploit for a surreal deep dive, and a relentless approach to joke-writing and pacing that makes it one of the most consistent laughter machines around.
Well, hey: Two out of three ain’t bad, right?
It’s not that tonight’s installment of WWDITS, “The Night Market,” is a laugh-free endeavor. No episode of TV that features Natasia Demetriou gleefully tchotchke hunting in a mystical marketplace full of shit-stinking fairies is going to be devoid of a few, possibly improvised, gems. (“Small skull. Nice!”) But it does take a long, largely meandering road to get to its central set piece: a battle between Guillermo and Nandor that’s roughly one part showmanship for a crowd of baying vampires and two parts a resolution to those ego-bruising “Who would win in a fight?” questions that got raised in last season’s finale.
In hindsight, making Guillermo an apex vampire hunter might be the single smartest decision the show’s writing team has ever done. It not only gives Harvey Guillen a lot of chances to look shockingly cool as he dishes out beatdowns, it’s also a key equalizer for the series’ power dynamics and a way to give a character who’s always going to be the show’s main underdog a regular string of wins. Gizmo might suffer humiliations, accusations of orcishness, and literal spitting in his face, but the show has laid enough track on his abilities at this point that, once the fight starts going in earnest, it’s not a question of whether he was going to kick Nandor’s ass, but of how the pair were going to make his fake loss convincing enough to fool a pack of vamps.
The fight itself looks great, too, as Guillermo and Nandor duke it out on multiple levels of the titular Night Market (buried in a subway graveyard deep beneath the city), leaving a few collateral dead bodies in their wake. Kudos especially to Nick Corirossi as the supremely bored and dismissive announcer of the familiar fights (fights where vampires make their familiars fight and kill each other, natch), who gives a consistently entertaining breakdown of the battles without ever letting his utter contempt for the humans in their midst slip. (“Another high-flying capoeira kick that does nothing!”) And it’s always nice to hear Guillermo lose his cool with the endless disrespect directed his way, even if only for a second, as he and Nandor briefly play-act their way into a genuine battle to the death.
That’s the highlight. (Well, that along with, if I can admit to being completely puerile, the reveal that the main way the Night Market filters out humans on their secret subway train is subjecting them to a farted rendition of “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” What can I say? I’m a softie for a fart joke delivered with conviction.)
We can dispense with the C-plot, meanwhile, fairly quickly: Laszlo is still struggling with his fatherly duties toward “that little tap-dancing freak that crawled its way out of the abdominal cavity of dead Colin Robinson,” this time irritated that The Boy has developed an interest in fairy tales. And so the pair tour the most boring bits of the Night Market, revealing that Pinocchio-ism is just a medical condition, that “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was just about a “common German nudist,” and unveiling the dark truth about how Rumpelstiltskin got his name. I’ll never turn my nose up at Matt Berry saying bizarre things in a funny way, and it’s nice to see The Boy’s growth spurt get Mark Proksch fully back into the mix as part of the show’s ensemble. But that doesn’t stop this whole plot-line from being incredibly slight, and not terribly dense with jokes. (Also, wouldn’t Laszlo not want The Boy to embrace the banal nature of the supernatural, so as to keep his energy vampire nature at bay? At least he’s got good taste in bedtime reading.)
That leaves us with our inciting incident for the whole Night Market field trip, i.e., Nadja’s labor conflicts with the wraiths who do all the actual work of running her club. And while The Guide (Kristen Schaal, who gets one good line tonight when she covers after realizing she didn’t get invited on the Night Market trip) might be being a bit cruel when she downplays the wraith’s comedy abilities, she’s also not wrong: In a show that lives and dies on the delivery of its dialogue, these voiceless little weirdos just don’t pass muster.
It doesn’t help that—just like with last week’s lukewarm music industry commentary, also centered on the club—the parallels between Nadja’s supernatural labor problems and more traditional union battles aren’t so much heightened for comedy here as vaguely gestured to. It’s clearly just an excuse to get Nadja to the Market, where she wheels and deals her way to getting the perfect bribe for the wraith’s leader, first via trading some of Nandor’s old crap to a pair of IKEA-joke-based Valkyries and then by passing off “a piece of clothing with a very misogynistic joke that makes a complete mockery of common traffic safety laws” for the drug in question. Again, Demetriou sells the shit out of this—see point one in my opening spiel. And I’m firmly on the record that the show’s breezy attitude toward conflict resolution is a feature, not a bug. But the jokes have to be there to drive it all, and in “The Night Market,” they simply aren’t more often than not.
But, look: Even when “The Night Market” isn’t laugh-a-minute, it’s still dense with detail and delightfully strange, one of those episodes that gives us a window into how far the weirdness of this little sitcom universe goes. What We Do In The Shadows is very, very good at taking its own mythology just seriously enough to impart a little wonder into its world—even when it leaves its own characters feeling oh so terribly bored.
- Nandor compares The Night Market to “the famous Italian street fairs of Little Italy.”
- Despite my grousing, the Laszlo And Colin Show does have its charms: “Rumpledickskin, more like.” “What’s dick skin?”
- Kayvan Novak gives a very funny delivery on “Ehh, you could pass” after Guillermo asks if he looks like an orc.
- I still don’t think the wraiths are funny—but their little white fake hands kind of are.
- Also a good moment: Marwa inviting herself along to the Night Market, only to abruptly about-face when Nandor surreptitiously rubs the lamp and spends a wish. Her standing blankly after they leave is a nice, weird touch.
- More club woes: The blood sprinklers remain all jammed up.
- A solid follow-up fart joke: “Are you still taking requests?” “Not for a couple of hours.”
- Huge shout-out to everyone involved in making The Night Market itself: It’s genuinely an awesome-looking spectacle.
- Corirossi gets a lot of good lines as he narrates the fights, but none so good as when Guillermo does his little trench coat flip and the MC says, “Looks like the little guy’s voguing now.”
- Great Matt Berry line read: “As far as I know, he was never a puppet.”
- “I call him Darth Small.”
- “I already had plans last night, so it’s a good thing I didn’t get invited!”
- I just looked it up after realizing that I would absolutely listen to Berry read the entirety of In Cold Blood, and the man simply hasn’t done nearly enough audiobooks.
- I always like when the show acknowledges the camera crew; I’m shocked none of them died in the midst of Guillermo and Nandor’s fight.
- Hell yeah, wraiths: Union solidarity from beyond the grave.