"What We Do in the Shadows" prepared us for the disbelief that met the latest Jan. 6 indictment

It doesn't matter if "Local News" isn't meant as an allegory. This week's news makes it an apt one

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published August 4, 2023 5:29AM (EDT)

What We Do In The Shadows (FX)
What We Do In The Shadows (FX)

Spoiler alert: This article contains specific details about the "What We Do in the Shadow" fifth episode titled "Local News"

For five seasons of "What We Do in the Shadows" our favorite nest of Staten Island vampires has managed to live among humans virtually unnoticed, exploiting them however they can while getting away with it. But one day the jig will be up, and they'll have to face the consequences of all the bloodsucking and murders they've committed while trying to pass as human.

These monsters are only able to succeed because humans find disbelief easier than reckoning with the truth.

There may have been a time when one could call this the core tension of "What We Do in the Shadows." Now, that's less of a given. Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Nandor (Kayvan Novak) and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) have grown bolder and sloppier in their interactions with their community.

Vampires have special powers that enable them to get away with all sorts of nonsense; Nandor's outstanding talent for hypnosis, for instance, gets them out of jail in an early episode. But he also mesmerizes the cops to salute him and Laszlo by telling them he's Captain "Sully" Sullenberger and Laszlo is Tom Selleck's character from "Blue Bloods."

These should only be short-term fixes, but what's become increasingly apparent is that these monsters are only able to succeed because humans find disbelief easier than reckoning with the truth. Another explanation, evinced by the vampires' next-door neighbors Sean (Anthony Atamanuik) and Charmaine (Marissa Jaret Winokur), is that we're simply too stupid to embrace common sense and accede to be governed by an agreed-upon set of rules and laws.

But maybe that view is colored by a post-third indictment perspective. As Nandor reminds us in "Local News," this season's fifth episode, he's been a Staten Island resident for many centuries.

Unwisely he doesn't say this to the mockumentary's producers but to WYXK News Channel 8's Joanna Roscoe (Jamie Linn Watson) and everyone watching that day's 7 o'clock newscast. Joanna is broadcasting live from the flooded street outside the vampire residence, where a water main has burst. And Nandor, of all people, decides to give his man-on-the-street account by offering that he hasn't seen so much water since "the great flood in 1892, Joanna. It was a big boy."

Then he catches himself. "Silly me, not 1892 – 1992," kicking a verbal deluge that closes with that accurate yet humanly impossible count of the time he's put in at his address.

What We Do In The ShadowsWhat We Do In The Shadows (FX)"Many centuries!" Joanna cheerfully repeats, jokingly adding, "Well, it looks like we have discovered the secret to eternal life." At this, Nandor freaks out and runs off while blurting "Oh s***ty s**t, I've f****d it!" announcing to the coven that he's exposed them.

This kicks off a cascade of panic-informed schemes, including a nearly successful kidnapping conspiracy. It all culminates in a "nothing to see here" fake-out that would give Fox News' primetime lineup a run for its money.

"What We Do in the Shadows" has never overtly aspired to be politically apposite in its narratives despite the roommates' ascension to lead the Vampiric Council of the Eastern Seaboard, making The Guide (Kristen Schaal) a regular fixture in their lives.

But that never played as a specific critique of Donald Trump's administration despite the similarities between Nadja and Nandor's leadership style and all we endured under the 45th president's regime. The two of them were and are greedy and shortsighted, repeating the classic tendency among those ill-suited for power to use it as a blunt instrument instead of governing for the many.

But the Vampire Council is a figurehead that's only as powerful as their leaders' desire to enforce vampire law, regulations Nadja, Laszlo, Nandor and Colin are constantly circumventing. The group escaped their collective death sentence twice before rising to the political top of the underworld. Not that it matters.

Colin Robinson filibusters with fabricated stories about his nonexistent children and defends empty stances simply to drain his audience of their will to live.

In this new season, they've gone a step further by inserting themselves into the human political machine, first by supporting Sean's run for comptroller on the flimsiest of platforms, then by Colin Robinson taking over Sean's failed campaign strictly for the opportunities afforded by the debate to feed on a large audience watching live and via telecast.

What We Do In The ShadowsWhat We Do In The Shadows (FX)Nadja and Nandor's Vampire Council appointment is a classic case of failing upward – the Supreme Worldwide Vampiric Council reasons they've outlasted their enemies, so why not hand them the reins of power?

What Colin Robinson does in that local political race is an old-fashioned grift. During the debate, he filibusters with fabricated stories about his nonexistent children and defends empty stances simply to drain his audience of their will to live. Mike Lindell has nothing on him.

"Local News" progresses this by adding unwitting collaborators in the guise of Channel 8's news crew. They are not faux-furious pundits with smug grins, though, merely your standard headline ciphers. Joanna, the sitcom stereotypical beat reporter, smiles through whatever lunacy flies in her face, calmly vamping as two large men dash up behind her with a sack large enough to stuff her inside.

Back at the studio the anchors vacuously nod at Nandor's escalating trumpery, as they do when The Guide wrests Joanna's microphone away to parley on behalf of all vampires. 

"There will be damage. Bloodshed! We are not so different you and us," she pleads with the newsteam who, again, thinks it's only covering a neighborhood's burst water pipe. "We all want peace!"

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This one-sided disarray mimics the chaotic self-serving logic that led to and transpired during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. What Justice Department special prosecutor Jack Smith details in a 45-page document is not about what Trump said but what he did, or tried to do. The most chilling example may be the reported exchange in which a White House lawyer predicted there would be "riots in every major city in the United States" if Trump stayed in office after losing the election. At this "co-conspirator 4" (presumed to be former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark) replies, "Well . . . that's why there's an Insurrection Act."  

That a confidante of any outgoing U.S. president would blithely suggest putting down their citizens' right to protect with the military is frightening. But it's also the type of suggestion a grasping simpleton would make, someone who knows the letter of the law but doesn't respect what it's there to protect or prevent. Coupling that with the Republicans' mass buy-in to the delusion that the violence Americans witnessed in live coverage that day didn't happen — that it was mostly a "peaceful protest" — somehow makes it all worse. We came so close to losing our democracy due to some real dolts.

Whether "Local News" writer Sarah Naftalis intended Nandor's screw-up to function as a goofy allegory for current political events is inconsequential since this week's nuclear political development invites us to notice a few parallels. Faced with the possibility of being hounded out of her home, Nadja immediately dyes her hair Ivanka blonde and plans her exit route.

What We Do In The ShadowsWhat We Do In The Shadows (FX)Laszlo proposes killing Joanna before downgrading his first strike proposal to kidnapping with no clear strategy of what to do after that. Colin Robinson installs booby traps throughout the house, dons a Rambo-esque get-up and screams about making his last stand.

Nandor riles up the team with a speech worth of a rally held on the Ellipse. "A great enemy is upon us: Joanna Roscoe and her army of Channel 8 viewers! This is not the first foe we have met, nor will it be the last. They may outnumber us. They may have a satellite truck and a sky-high chopper or whatever the f**k . . . But this s**thole on Staten Island is our home!"

With that, they charge the unassuming local news truthteller only to be thwarted by a failure in urban infrastructure: the pavement collapses under their old-timey getaway car. To cover them Colin Robinson kills the live satellite feed by blowing up the news truck, but that doesn't stop Joanna from noticing the other vampires as they levitate their car out of the sewers.

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Knowing the audience would never accept her report without visual proof, she urges her cameraman to record this inconceivable vision, forcing the vampires to chase her back to Channel 8's studio. Once there, Nandor and Nadja put the anchors to sleep before taking over the newscast to hypnotize their viewers. "You will remember nothing out of the ordinary tonight. That is all ye know and all ye need to know."

There's just one problem – the cameras are still rolling, and viewers remain tuned in. So Nadja and Nandor read the next lines in the teleprompter.

"Hip-hip Pup-ray!" Nandor says nervously, with Nadja replying, "Indeed. It is time again for Staten Island's Annual Puppy Parade."

"Which is always a barking good time," Nandor responds. "Here's hoping we have some nice weather for the promenading pooches."  

Colin Robinson lends a hand with the weather, ignoring the arterial spray across the green screen, followed by Laszlo doing an impressive job of handling sports headlines.

You can't claim that "What We Do in the Shadows" has run out of creative ways to prove what Napoleon Bonaparte once said about politics: "Stupidity is not a handicap." He knew that the people placed in charge of legislating often aren't up to the task. But their failings are worsened when the public has a say in their hire and refuses to acknowledge their criminal unsuitability for the job.

Then again, knowing that tens of millions are buying the right wing media's argument that the former president merely engaged in free speech and the deadly insurrection we watched unfold on TV was no big deal, maybe our vampires never had anything to worry about. Humans will gladly ignore anything that makes their reality less convenient, unless it's puppies exercising their right to peaceful and oh-so-cute assembly.

"What We Do in the Shadows" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. and streams on Hulu the next day.

By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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Commentary Jan. 6 Trump Crimes Trump Indictment What We Do In The Shadows