By Chris Schulz
A few tweaks turn a cult film into the year's first great TV comedy, writes Chris Schulz. (Warning: contains slight spoilers)
Nandor the Relentless, an ancient vampire, is in the party supplies section of his local supermarket, shopping for a relative's welcoming bash with a basket under his arm.
"I would like some of that colourful dust that sparkles … some glitter," he declares to his familiar, a humble schmuck called Guillermo. "I'm going to sprinkle it on my face and body, like Twilight."
Taking aim at the teen vampire series is a cheap shot, but it's a good one. Crucially, it's just one of many great scenes in the excellent first episode of the US adaptation of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement's 2014 cult hit, What We Do in the Shadows, which begins screening in New Zealand tonight.
Most comedy shows would cut there. The joke landed. Job done.
Waititi, who directed the first episode, and Clement, a co-producer, can't help themselves.
"So deliciously macabre," says Nandor, stroking a packet of pink crepe paper. "Creepy paper, creepy paper."
"It's 'crepe' paper, master," corrects Guillermo. "Ooh, multi-pack," continues Nandor, undeterred.
Laugh? I nearly bit my tongue.
The new-look Shadows is full of stuff like this, scenes that use the film's template - film crew documents a flat of pretty average vampires - for a scattershot array of jokes dripping in Waititi and Clement's dark sense of humour.
Most of them land, and that's thanks to some pretty sweet tweaks. The cast, featuring bullish Brit Matt Berry, stand-up comic Natasia Demetriou, and the dry wit of Mark Proksch, are all excellent. The setting has moved from Wellington to Staten Island. Guillermo, played by Harvey Guillen, is Shadow's version of The Office's Jim, his arched eyebrows and wry looks at the camera proving how ridiculous this all is.
There's also the addition of Proksch's Colin, a "psychic vampire" who drains people of energy by boring them. He works in an office. He's a terrorist with a pencil sharpener. His flatmates hate him. We all know that guy.
Of course, none of this should work. Waititi and Clement's film is now five years old, a lifetime in the world of pop culture. Mockumentaries were already on the way out when the US adaptation of The Office ended its nine-season run in 2013. No one really makes them anymore.
Waititi has bigger concerns than resurrecting Shadows. After the success of Thor: Ragnarok, he's playing Hitler in his upcoming World War II comedy Jojo Rabbit, and has a stop-motion movie about Michael Jackson's pet chimp Bubbles in the works. Script offers probably land on his desk on the daily.
Likewise, Clement's just completed a European tour with Flight of the Conchords, and recently released an HBO special and album with the folk-comedy duo. They're due to play in New Zealand again, sometime soon.
But he we are, in a brightly-lit supermarket, watching a checkout operator tell a caped, fanged vampire off for throwing ancient coins at him.
It all feels more potent, more refined, and the scope seems bigger. That's no surprise: the film was made for $1.6 million. Here, with the backing of FX, there are more elaborate set pieces, improved CGI, and the make-up is better.
Waititi's learnt a lot from his time with Marvel: the editing is fast and slick, there are plenty of cameos to look forward to, and bonus scenes at the end of episodes.
After four of the 10 episodes planned for this first season, which screens on FX in the US, I'm prepared to say it's better than the film. Much better.
It's an easy call to make after one of the first scenes in the first episode, a flat meeting at which Nandor berates fellow vampires Laslo and Nadja for leaving "half-drunk humans" in the basement.
"Half-drunk" as in half-drained, of their blood. "It's not hygienic," complains Nandor.
Their solution is the same one that many real-life flatmates use when fighting about food in the fridge.
"Why don't we just write on them with marker pens… name of the month, date, year," suggests Nadja.
"Great idea," replies Nandor. "Sharpies."
You can imagine the giggles in the writer's room as Waititi and Clement came up with that one. Relentless, alright.
* What We Do in the Shadows screens at 7.30pm tonight on Sky TV channel SoHo 2.