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Energy vampires and the dry comic promise of FX’s ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Energy vampires and the dry comic promise of FX’s ‘What We Do in the Shadows’
Kayvan Novak, left, Harvey Guillen and Matt Berry in the FX series "What We Do in the Shadows." (FX)

Maybe one of the most improbable new series featured at the 2019 Television Critics Assn. presentations, FX’s adaptation of the 2014 cult indie comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” on Monday offered ample evidence of what made the original so appealing in the first place.

Co-created by and starring Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, the film was a droll and captivating tweak of the vampire genre with a genially dry delivery familiar to anyone who saw Clement as one half of the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords.”

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Since then, Clement has gone on to further success as an actor, while Waititi ventured into new worlds as director of “Thor: Ragnarok,” which proved superhero franchises can be funny, too.

That shift from cult comedy to Marvel blockbuster and back again was unavoidable during Monday’s panel for “What We Do in the Shadows,” which premieres March 27 on FX.

“Mr. Waititi,” began a question from one of the reporters gathered for TCA. “Thor,” Waititi corrected before she could continue.

Asked about transitioning from the Marvel universe to the more understated one of “What We Do in the Shadows,” Waititi initially joked, “What happened to my career?” (He later added, more seriously, that the transition was “very comfortable.”)

The panel continued with Clement and Waititi dryly exemplifying the tone of the series, which shifts the movie from New Zealand to New York City with a cast that includes Kayvan Novak, Natasia Demetriou, Harvey Guillen, Mark Proksch and Beanie Feldstein.

Asked why the series would not include Clement, who played one of the vampires in the original film, Waititi explained that he didn’t make the cut. “I auditioned,” Clement added, playing along, “I thought I wasn’t good enough.”

Along with the new cast, the series also adds to its mythology with Proksch’s “energy vampire,” a character whose power stems from boring or enraging conversation. “You meet a lot of these people at parties,” Clement said.

The creators also had to answer for some of the rules in the series, which plays with the vampire myth by its characters not being reflected in mirrors, and yet — true to the film — followed by a film crew in a mockumentary-like structure.

Waititi and Clement both offered a deadpan explanation of their use of digital cameras, which allow vampires to be captured onscreen.

“That was a huge problem back in those days,” Clement explained of older methods. “All of our cameras have mirrorless technology.”

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