Think your roommates are a pain? Try living in a house full of vampires.
They’re up all night, every night. The leftovers they never bother to throw out are partly blood-sucked bodies. House meetings turn into flying bat-fights. And it all goes on for centuries.
Such are the woes of the housemates in “What We Do in the Shadows ,” a macabre sitcom that premieres Wednesday on FX.
It’s based on the 2014 New Zealand mockumentary movie of the same name that has become a cult, and occult, favorite. And it comes from the film’s makers and stars, Jemaine Clement, best known for “Flight of the Conchords,” and his longtime comedy partner Taika Waititi, who became the unlikely director of Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” after directing the low-budget vampire film.
The two stay behind the camera for the TV show, transferring the action, and the production, to the United States.
“In New Zealand this wouldn’t really be possible, it’s just harder to make TV there,” said Clement, who still lives in Wellington. “And it seems like since it’s an American show, it should be set in America. So we thought it would be a new house, a different house, with a very similar situation.”
The show’s vampires, Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), have origins that span Europe and span centuries. English actors ended up in all three roles.
“We were lucky because Jemaine and Taika, as New Zealanders, their comic sensibilities are almost more similar to a British sense of humor,” Novak said. “So it was quite serendipitous for us. And now we’re all going to go to America, riding their coattails, and become vampires.”
The characters came to the U.S. 200 years ago, when anti-vampire prejudice ran high in Europe.
“They didn’t like the color of our skin,” Laszlo says in the first episode.
“Or the fact that we killed and ate people,” Natasha adds.
They intended to conquer America, but when they learned how huge it was just settled in Staten Island, New York City.
There, they deal with the same household banalities and conflicts as humans, a theme of both film and show.
“Finish a whole victim before moving on to the next one!” Nandor tells the others at a house meeting in the pilot. All agree to write their name and the date on their prey in permanent marker so they know whose responsibility it is to clean it up.
They also get embroiled in local politics — they want a ban on turtlenecks — and go to a Manhattan nightclub where they learn they’re extremely uncool, despite their frequent efforts to be as chic as Hollywood’s vampires. Nandor at one point sprinkles drugstore glitter on himself so he can look “like ‘Twilight.'”
Clement spearheaded the idea of turning the film into a TV show, saying he wanted a project he wouldn’t have to describe in a pitch. He and Paul Simms are the showrunners.
Waititi, who directed and starred in the film, will take a more secondary role as an executive producer. It’s a backseat he’s happy to take, saying the constant night shoots can be “excruciating.”
“Vampires don’t know how to schedule TV shows,” Waititi said.
Even with half-hour episodes, the series allows its creators to go beyond the housemate relationship at its center.
“There’s a marriage that’s been going on for 200 years,” Clement said. “I thought, you know that that might be a metaphor for long-term relationships. Well, not even a metaphor, it’s just it.”
Also, he adds, “I wanted a master and servant relationship. I usually find those funny.”
The servant is Guillermo (Harvey Guillen), an aspiring vampire who is Nandor’s human “familiar,” tasked with luring in victims, cleaning up bloody messes and blocking out windows that let in deadly sun.
The character, whom Guillen says he’s playing as a young Guillermo del Toro, also serves as a quasi-narrator and vampire explainer for the audience.
The show’s final housemate may be the scariest of all.
Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is an “energy vampire.” That’s just a regular guy whose conversations are so deadly dull that his victims lose all will to live.
Clement and Proksch both say it’s more than a one-note joke, and that Colin will carry whole story lines.
“He’s definitely going to suck even more energy out of this country than we can spare,” Proksch said.