One of the low-key charms of FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, the TV adaptation of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s cult-classic vampire mockumentary, is its relatively unknown cast. Stars Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry, and Natasia Demetriou play Staten Island–based bloodsuckers whose glory days are far behind them, and the British comedians’ comparatively obscure profiles, at least in the U.S., make their characters feel appropriately third-tier while helping viewers feel like they’re discovering new talent. Arguably no other show currently on the air makes a better case for using unfamiliar faces.
But tonight, in an episode written by Clement and directed by Waititi, What We Do also made a fine case for calling up every famous person in one’s Rolodex. (Spoilers ahead.)
When Nandor, Laszlo, and Nadja—the vamps whose wretchedly mediocre antics we’ve been following—are called to appear before an international tribunal to account for the sudden death of the legendary Baron Afanas (Doug Jones) in their home, we find out why certain celebrities never seem to age. Among the members of the council are the following actors, all of whom have donned fangs in the past for prominent screen roles:
• Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive)
• Danny Trejo (From Dusk Till Dawn)
• Paul Reubens (the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie)
• Evan Rachel Wood (True Blood)
• Wesley Snipes (the Blade movies), via Skype
• Clement, Waititi, and Jonny Brugh (the What We Do in the Shadows movie)
The last three reprise their characters from the film, while Swinton, Reubens, and Wood, who seem to be playing themselves, are styled like the characters they played in their respective projects. (I guess the implication is that these world-famous undead thespians played their real-life selves in certain projects to … fuck with people?)
The council members also note the absent members who couldn’t make it to the meeting: “Kiefer” (Sutherland, of The Lost Boys), “Tom and Brad” (Cruise and Pitt, of Interview With the Vampire), and “Rob” (Pattinson, of you know). And, in perhaps the sweetest touch, the episode also guest-stars Kristen Schaal as an officious intermediary between the tribunal and the accused trio—a nod to Clement’s beloved Flight of the Conchords. (These aren’t even all the cameos in the episode: Waititi’s Marvel co-star Dave Bautista, aka Drax, also makes a brief appearance.)
Preceded by a dance sequence that recalled Swinton’s Suspiria remake, the star-studded gag was also a playful twist on the usual scenario of the main ensemble facing off against an anonymous committee, while reminding us once again how pathetic these long-in-the-tooth leeches truly are. Fitting, then, that they’re eventually carted away in a box covered by a blanket, as helpless as a litter of lost kittens.