All Guillermo has ever wanted was to be a vampire. Season 5 of What We Do in the Shadows fulfills the long-suffering familiar’s wish — maybe.
“The backstory I’ve given Guillermo is that he was bullied when he was little and that he wanted to be a vampire because they were so beautiful and glamorous and free sexually, their minds. They had everything at their fingertips, and they were immortal,” actor Harvey Guillén, who plays Guillermo, explained to journalists visiting the show’s set back in November. “They were captured in one time when they were the best version of themselves, and they lived like that forever. And I think he wanted to be that because of that, because of the personal trauma that might have happened to him as a child.”
But “personal trauma”? In a vampire mockumentary?
Heart is the FX comedy series’ secret weapon. The title added four more nods to its long list of Emmy nominations the week of its season 5 premiere. Its Emmy nominations over the years have included five for writing and two for “Outstanding Comedy Series” in 2020 and 2022, as well as those for sound, production design, and others. Costume designer Laura Montgomery, supervisor Judy Laukkanen and assistant costume designer Barbara Cardoso took home a win for the series last year for “Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes.”
Season 5 picks up after Guillermo bribes accidental vampire Derek (Chris Sandiford) to put the bite on him — a process that plays out in season 5’s premiere that will be achingly familiar to any viewer who has had an awkward first kiss or other intimate encounter.
“They’re both kind of grossed out about it. And then it ends up being very sloppy and messy and frightening for them,” showrunner and executive producer Paul Simms revealed during the set visit. “And the biggest thing of the season is that after he’s done this, after he’s taken this drastic move, he finds out from the other vampires that a familiar getting turned by a vampire who’s not their master is the most humiliating thing that a master can suffer.”
The feelings are very human. The circumstances are decidedly not.
Season 5 trailers so far show Matt Berry’s Laszlo exercising his “gentleman scientist” muscles on Guillermo, secretly trying to help the fledgling vampire understand his powers (or lack thereof). Laszlo has behaved dismissively toward the familiar in the past, but, as with his vulva topiary hobby and season 4 parenting of baby Colin (Mark Proksch), the elder vampire has something of a caretaker streak to his personality.
“You see, again, a softer side of Laszlo,” Simms said of Laszlo’s season 5 story.
About the baby Colin storyline, Berry recalled, “For me it was really a sort of breath of fresh air, because I could…show another side of [Laszlo] and be less sort of hedonistic and less narcissistic; though we have to still do that, otherwise it’s not fun — you know what I mean? He’s got to be an idiot and all those things. You can’t then just turn him into this sort of dad of the year, because that’s not what people want, I don’t think, from him.”
Laszlo may be a hedonist, but his passion for his mate Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) is one of the strongest bonds on the series. Berry said that the relationship is like nothing you’ve ever seen in a comedy, and that sort of rarified dynamic was one of his prerequisites for doing the series in speaking to series creator and executive producer Jemaine Clement and executive producer Taika Waititi, whose 2014 film is the basis of the television show.
“I think it’s refreshing to see people who are completely into each other, so much so that they forget everything else that’s kind of going on around. I think it’s rare, and I think it’s rare in comedy. So to explore that and to keep exploring that, for me, has been definitely one of the high points of the last five years,” Berry said.
Their love may be true, but Nadja has always had her side hustles, whether it be other lovers or becoming wholly immersed in projects like last season’s nightclub, which ultimately went up in flames — literally.
“She’s a classic narcissist,” Demetriou explained. “Everything in her life has gone wrong, and she can’t take any responsibility for it. It’s like, ‘Why is this happening to me? Why is liquor blood so delicious that it’s not my fault that it’s got alcoholic properties and made me make terrible decisions, like I burned down my own nightclub?’”
Her particular form of vampire victimization leads to her main storyline for season 5, in which she adopts a family of “Antipaxon” people living on Staten Island. (Nadja’s birthplace, Antipaxos, is a real island in western Greece.) Nadja believes someone has hexed her and that her new family will play a role in getting the hex removed.
Never in her “wildest dreams” did Demetriou believe she would get to play Nadja for five seasons.
“I literally left season 1…‘So good to meet you guys, so great to work with you. Maybe we’ll see each other again one day. Bye,’” she recalled. “So to have this be at season 5, it’s just like — and there’s a season 6 coming. All my friends are, ‘So where are you?’ ‘I’m in Toronto.’ And they’re like, ‘Still? That? Still? You’re still doing that?’ They can’t.
“I’m so shocked, and blessed, and grateful that it is still going, and you guys like it so much,” she said to visiting press, “and the fans like it so much. So yeah, we’re very lucky pigs.”
Critics have been very, very generous in their praise of the series — to the tune of three seasons at 100% on the Tomatometer and two that are currently Certified Fresh, with the last very much on its way. Seasons 1 and 2 are close behind, Certified Fresh at 94% and 98%, respectively. Viewer reception has been similar; the show’s Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes averages 92% across its first four seasons.
About season 5, critics are saying:
The series refuses to rest on its laurels, repeatedly expanding its crazy vampire mythology and universe in unexpected ways.
–Nick Schager, The Daily Beast
The main cast all remain on their A-game, and the show finds no shortage of laughs from the infinite ways that Matt Berry can overpronounce something.
–Hoai-Tran Bui, Inverse
The show remains, first and foremost, dry, biting, and deeply, often painfully funny.
–Lacy Baugher, Paste Magazine
“I kind of feel like our natural inclination is to make it silly and make it funny,” executive producer and writer Sam Johnson said about creating some of the show’s magical moments, like Guillermo coming out as gay to his family in season 4. “But I do think that, yeah, there’s just some heart built into it. These are good friends…and there is such a strong relationship between Nandor and Guillermo.”
That relationship is tested in the new season by Guillermo’s secret transition; though the tension may be one-sided initially, Kayvan Novak said about vampire Nandor the Relentless, who is not especially terrifying despite his fierce nom de guerre.
“Nandor in season 5, he’s kind of — Guillermo is definitely being a bit secretive about something, but he doesn’t know what. He’s not looking for a wife anymore. He’s kind of just Nandor-ing about, really,” Novak said.
The actor is particularly excited about the filming freedom the cast and crew experienced post-pandemic and how that will come across on screen.
“We’ve been able to be outdoors more and have larger set pieces, with more extras, which feels exciting. It kind of feels more like season 1 and 2 in that way, whereas 3 and 4, they have to be clever about keeping everything contained. It feels good in that way.
“I think that will translate to the viewers as well,” he continued. “They’ll see the vampires out in the public arena more, which I always like seeing us in those worlds rather than in a new music room. Even though the sets are all very sumptuous, putting the vampires in a convenience store on a street corner is also quite exciting…a playground we haven’t been able to play in because of the last two years of pandemic and all that.”
Nandor will, eventually, catch on to Laszlo and Guillermo’s new bond, supervising producer and writer Sarah Naftalis hinted.
“It is sort of an unexpected friendship…[and] you see the repercussions for that for the rest of the house. Nandor’s a little like, ‘Why are the two of them spending so much time together?’ I think putting characters together in unexpected ways, but also letting the other vampires react — ‘This is new, this is weird’ — is really funny,” Naftalis said.
Baby Colin is all grown up now, and back to his old energy-vampire high jinks as a very adult Colin Robinson in season 5, which sees him starting a political campaign. Where season 1 could be thought of as “Colin in The Office” (Proksch played “Nate” in the NBC comedy) and season 4 was “Colin in Little Man,” his politician storyline in season 5 seems a bit like “Colin in Parks and Recreation.” Colin, though, is done with overarching plots for this season and sees more one-and-done comedic moments.
“It keeps the show fresh,” Proksch said. “When you tune in, you’re not quite sure where it’ll go. It could be, I mean, for crying out loud, a home improvement episode, and we’re afforded that on this show because it’s basically a cartoon. I mean, when you’re dealing with the fantasy of vampires or the metaphysical or whatever you want to say, you’re allowed to do insane stuff. And so, the story arcs, I think, they’re enough for people to buy into the Jim-and-Pam or what have you of it. But I think that the sillier, more ridiculous episodes are what entertain people as they’re watching it, and I think what’s really huge on our show is that we can get away with both.”
The Guide (Kristen Schaal), however, does enjoy a story arc in season 5 — although “enjoy” is perhaps the wrong word for the bureaucratic vampire’s experience.
“I’ve definitely desperately felt like I wanted to be part of a group that I didn’t think wanted me, so it’s really relatable for me to play this part,” Schaal joked. “As an adult, things that have been going on in my life, where I’m like, ‘What do you mean I’m not invited to the vacation?’ And then remember those friendship necklaces? Remember? Did anyone get one? Remember when they had three friendship necklaces? I still couldn’t get in on that. So sad. But yeah, so that’s her journey.”
The Guide reappears on the scene in season 5 and expects a warm reception, but it’s no party.
“Since she helped with the nightclub with Nadja, she sort of felt like she’s maybe in this crew,” Schaal said. “She doesn’t live with the vampires, but at this point, they’ve gone through some stuff together. So I think she just sort of considers herself to be part of the gang. And then she’s met with just — what’s the word where people don’t really care?”
Though bristling at the indifference of the Staten Island roommates, The Guide “definitely appreciates Guillermo’s heart,” Schaal said. “Guillermo is the only one who treats her with any amount of humanity. He’s very kind to her and just sees her. The other vampires, yeah, she’s having trouble connecting with them and she’s definitely in her head about it and is just feeling more and more on the outside.”
What The Guide doesn’t know yet is that Guillermo has become a vampire like the others in the household.
“This season, we have a really emotional moment where you love and aspire to be something,” Guillén said, “but you also love the life you had before without knowing it until it’s no longer available to you. Sometimes the life that you’re living is perfectly fine.”
Guillermo aspired to become a vampire and made his own wish come true, but “finding out that he’s a Van Helsing is kind of throwing a wrench in it. It’s just like, ‘But…’ And he’s really good at it, accidentally really great at being this vampire killer. I mean, ‘Buffy who?’”
Guillén suddenly blanched.
“No, don’t tell her that,” he said. “Please don’t tell her. We’re trying to get Sarah Michelle Gellar. Please. No, no, no. I would love for Buffy to come on the show…I think it’d be great if she would come and help Guillermo.”
So do we.