It's a scientific fact: "What We Do in the Shadows" vampire Laszlo is the friend we need, in deed

In a subplot reminiscent of a long-running "Friends" farce, Matt Berry's vampire wins hearts with wisdom and wit

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published August 25, 2023 4:00PM (EDT)

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

"What We Do in the Shadows" loves showing the ludicrous extent to which vampires will go to fulfill their needs, but only Laszlo Cravensworth (Matt Berry) would lapse into a near non-verbal catatonia for three weeks to have a good think.

This is the ultimate punchline to the eighth episode of Season 5, "The Roast," throughout which the usually talkative Laszlo only brings himself to say, "Yes yes, very good, thank you!" to every variety of stimulus – sexual, intellectual or possibly lethal. His wife Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and roommate Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak) are at a loss.

Nandor's familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) fears he's broken Laszlo by asking him to help him with his ponderous secret. Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) is perplexed – nothing he does allows the energy vampire to drain his easily miffed roommate.

This long-running subplot casting Laszlo as Guillermo's secret-keeper is similar to the farcical setup in Season 5 of "Friends."

So they throw Laszlo a roast, which goes wrong in all the ways while revealing Laszlo's influence on this usually self-serving group. That includes Baron Afanas (Doug Jones), whose time among humans has led him to embrace peaceful domestication instead of slaking his ancient destructive blood lust. He can only admit this after he adopts a passel of fanged frogmen that he somehow finds charming.

"I suppose with the right company, it can be beautiful, this eternal existence," the Baron sighs in epiphany after flushing one of the dead amphibians down a toilet.

It should not go unnoticed that the monstrosities that softened up the Baron are Laszlo's creations, achieved by merging Guillermo's DNA with that of a small petting zoo's worth of animals. The resulting hybrids insist on calling Guillermo "daddy" in the most unsettling voices one could imagine, gentle hideosities Guillermo donates to a retirement home to serve as emotional support creatures.

What We Do In The ShadowsWhat We Do In The Shadows (FX)They're also twisted physical evidence of Laszlo's higher purpose in "What We Do in the Shadows," other than the bloodsucking family unit's go-to for a quick-witted comeback or horny repartee. Between his fourth season turn as the foster father to the infant version of Colin Robinson 2.0 and his latest partnership with Guillermo, Berry's Laszlo secures his place as the human soul of this vampire clutch – a good neighbor, willing father and now, Guillermo's main hope for redemption.

That role kicked in at the end of the second episode when Laszlo pushed Guillermo to reveal that he's been made into a vampire, but enlisted someone other than Nandor to sire him, a mortal sin among their kind. But even before this, Laszlo's influence on Nandor is revealed when Nandor reveals he's been studying "an ancient book of wisdom . . . that lay buried in Laszlo's library of precious volumes for years and years. This book has taught me to focus on what is really important."

He's referring to Thomas Anthony Harris' 1967 self-help book "I'm OK – You're OK."

This long-running subplot casting Laszlo as Guillermo's secret-keeper is similar to the farcical setup in Season 5 of "Friends," where the writers wrung mileage out of Joey helping Monica and Chandler hide their romance from Monica's brother Ross, along with Phoebe and Rachel. Most of its jokes revolved around the creative lengths to which Joey went to maintain Monica and Chandler clandestine affair, despite Joey being an idiot.

"What We Do in the Shadows" differs by making Laszlo's intellect his and Guillermo's shield. As a renaissance man and amateur enlightenment philosopher, Laszlo champions reason over violence, and loyalty to his heart over any law that would compel him to do otherwise. He doesn't let anything get in the way of a flamboyant good time – not even his vampirism.  That's made him the show's most enchanting character, which is saying something in a comedy with an ensemble this solid.

Berry's been a main draw for the show since the second season, when Laszlo introduced his alter ego Jackie Daytona, regular human bartender, concocted to hide out in a small Pennsylvania town.

Without question, though, these episodes' most successful experiment has been teaming Guillén with Berry.

Even in disguise, he showed a soft spot for humans by raising funds for the local women's volleyball team to play in the state tournament. This altruistic streak continued when Laszlo returned to Staten Island and forged other unlikely relationships, developing real feelings for the baby Colin Robinson and, stranger still, the idiot next door Sean (Anthony Atamanuik) — this show's "Fun Bobby," who even the Baron concedes is "cool, he's a good time" after railing against his progeny going soft by consorting with humans.

What We Do In The ShadowsWhat We Do In The Shadows (FX)Sheltering a familiar from a nasty demise is another matter. Guillermo's transgression is one the gravest of insults and is punishable by death, both Guillermo's and Nandor's. There's a touch of sorrow within all this since Guillermo has genuine affection for Nandor, who feels the same but can't bring himself to reciprocate.

But Laszlo rarely showed any deep feelings for Guillermo before this season. He still calls him Gizmo not out of affection, but because he can't bring himself to remember the familiar's real name. Nevertheless, when Guillermo accidentally spills the beans Laszlo doesn't rat him out. He tries to help him.

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This isn't entirely altruistic on Laszlo's part because Guillermo is a genuine biological curiosity. His transformation hasn't fully taken hold, enabling him to eat food, walk in daylight and generally continue living like a normal human. And Laszlo, an (undead) man of science, enjoys a few benefits from his discoveries. An early find allows him to make sunblock from Guillermo's sweat, allowing him to enjoy a day at the beach. The darker side of his dabbling with the human helper's DNA yielded a talking pooch person that would haunt our dreams.  

Without question, though, these episodes' most successful experiment has been teaming Guillén with Berry.

Five seasons of any show necessitates pairing actors who don't usually work together to see what shakes out. Few better means exist to keep a comedy sharp and vital. Season 4 puts Demetriou together with Kristen Schaal, yielding outstanding returns as Nadja and The Guide run a nightclub together that rises as spectacularly as it burns out. Teaming Proksch with Berry, whose characters shared few storylines before Colin Robinson was resurrected as a baby, created one of the best parent-child comedies going.

Guillermo assisted Laszlo's parenting, but almost always in the background. Having Laszlo turn his full attention to Gizmo for a season, then, adds a seam to a character that already had the audience in his thrall.

Those who know Laszlo respect him enough to go along with keeping Guillermo's secret. When Nadja finds out, her love for Laszlo wins her over while also hinting that somewhere in the depths of her black soul she may actually care about old Gizmo. Maybe not as much as "Mamma Mia" and singing inappropriately raunchy wedding reception ditties, but it counts.

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By the time Guillermo drops the news on the Baron, he's so angry about other slights (including the fact that Guillermo was responsible for burning him to a crisp) that Guillermo's betrayal of Nandor barely even registers. "Please know that I am rooting for you, hmm?" the Baron tells Guillermo. "Do not get killed. But . . . these things happen!" Moments later, Gizmo almost accidentally kills the Baron again, causing the Baron to hunt him again and kill one of Laszlo's hybrids, revealed by a quick and nasty dissection by Mr. Cravensworth.

The agony the Baron witnesses over Guillermo's near death changes him . . . or rather, inspires him to admit that he's already changed. "It can be lonely, this American dream," he says. Then a few adorable man-frogs emerge from the bowels of the hybrid's corpse, and the Baron is inspired to take up a new hobby.

It will be some time before Laszlo gives Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson much competition as a scientific spokesperson. But as an advocate for defending and seeking to understand the unknown, TV could do a lot worse than Laszlo. Through his time with Gizmo and many lab trials, he directly and inadvertently proves that no heart is beyond changing, even ones that haven't beat for centuries.

"What We Do in the Shadows" airs new episodes 10 p.m. Thursdays on FX and the next day on Hulu.

By Melanie McFarland

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

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