Every good vampire series is funny, at least some of the time. Before this year, I would’ve said that gently, as just one entry on a longer list of traits, but after watching five different bloodsucker shows in 2022, it’s become my cri de coeur. No fangs without farce! No jugulars without jokes! I realize now that it’s the humor that connects the best projects in our current vampire era.
To put it another way: It’s a grave error to take vampires too seriously. After all, these are fictional creatures with pointy teeth who cannot get a suntan. They can be scary and seductive. They can be potent metaphors for everything from repressed sexuality to our cultural obsession with youth. But they are also, always, a little ridiculous. Showtime’s Let the Right One In never acknowledges this, and that’s why it is such a galactic bore. Because it plays everything with such stony seriousness, it misses the dark comedy in a little girl vampire kicking a twerpy bully’s butt on behalf of her preadolescent best friend. I’m not suggesting the theme from The Benny Hill Show should play underneath her fight scenes, but without a dash of wit, we lose the reckless energy that makes the best undead creatures so perversely alive. The humor is wrapped up in their allure.
Plus, a few gags can smooth over rough patches. Netflix’s First Kill might get bogged down in a convoluted backstory about a global community of monster slayers, but whenever it focuses on its teenage leads, it lightens up. There are charmingly awkward moments between slayer-in-training Calliope Burns (Imani Lewis) and her crush, young vampire Juliette Fairmont (Sarah Catherine Hook), as they fumble through their first romance. They have the larger problem of being in a hunter-vampire relationship, but they also face the everyday struggle of being chaotic girlfriends. It’s too bad Netflix canceled the series after one season, because despite its flaws, that rom-com sensibility made it stand out.
Similarly, the nonstop jokes in Syfy’s Reginald the Vampire help me look past its occasional preachiness. The latter stems from its admirable (and absolutely correct) position that people of all body types are equally worthy, and it filters this perspective through Reginald (Jacob Batalon), a newly turned, plus-sized vampire who gets scorned by elitist vamps for not being thin. Yet in its noble desire to celebrate everyone, the show flattens its characters out. Reggie and his friends always make the correct moral choice while the hissable “bad vamps” never miss a chance to be hateful, and it’s easy to guess how the stories will end.
However, these moral lessons are balanced with elaborate gags, like when Reggie hides a disco ball in his stomach so that it can be cut out during a battle. When one of his human allies uses the ball to reflect sunlight around the room, smoking nasty vampires with the power of ’70s club culture, the entire series gets a lift. That’s a clever subversion of the genre’s tropes — the allergy to sunlight, the ability to heal quickly from a major wound — that reminds us being superhuman can occasionally be fun.
Of course, no vampire series is more fun than FX’s What We Do in the Shadows. This year, the fourth season continued to use anarchy as its greatest comedic weapon. As Guillermo (Harvey Guillėn) stands at the crossroads between becoming a vampire and embracing his destiny as a vampire hunter, we should assume that anything could happen to him. Will he become a vampire and a hunter at the same time? Will he join a boy band? Will he open a bar with Jackie Daytona? Nothing feels off limits, which is why the show is such a hoot. Even though it’s telling a disciplined story about the slow and steady evolution of the Staten Island vampire crew, it’s always willing to make room for chaos. That leads to brilliant, gonzo jokes like Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) becoming a baby superstar and Laszlo (Matt Berry) forever changing the way we say “New York City.”
This tone supports a shrewd approach to yet another vampire trope: the pressure of immortality. Bloodsuckers are always worried about how they’re going to pass the endless centuries, and the wildest moments on WWDITS often spring from the characters’ desperation to keep things fresh. That’s why Laszlo (Kayvan Novak) brings all his ancient wives back from the dead, and it’s why Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) distracts herself by opening a vampire nightclub: they need new hobbies. Their adventures say just as much about the burden of living forever as a hundred angsty monologues ever could.
I’ve been watching What We Do in the Shadows from the beginning because I knew it would be funny, just like the movie that inspired it. Conversely, I initially avoided AMC’s Interview With the Vampire because I assumed it would be nothing but beautiful monsters crying bloody tears. It was one of the great surprises of my year to learn I was wrong. The series is, in fact, a nonstop delight. Its first season features catty lovers’ quarrels between Louis (Jacob Anderson) and Lestat (Sam Reid), not to mention petulant family spats with their adopted vamp daughter Claudia (Bailey Bass). There are jokes about Lestat’s sideline as a ragtime musician and present-day scenes where Louis and Daniel (Eric Bogosian), the reporter who’s interviewing him, throw shade at each other like sorority sisters.
Plus, there are incredibly hot sex scenes that are filmed for our pleasure as much as the characters’. We get to watch Louis and Lestat enjoy their lovemaking, which is staged with both passion and tenderness, and as much as they forward the story of the couple’s relationship, their trysts provide sheer, titillating spectacle. They aren’t funny, but they’re fun.
These elements give Interview With the Vampire a joie de vivre that balances its frank depictions of spousal abuse, racist violence, and homophobia. The pleasure and the sorrow are so closely braided together they create an exhilarating synthesis. Lurid and thoughtful, bitchy and mournful, the series is a highlight in a year of undead drama. Its jubilant flair is a total scream.
Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.
TOPICS: Interview with the Vampire, First Kill, Let the Right One In, Reginald the Vampire, What We Do in the Shadows, Harvey Guillén, Jacob Anderson, Jacob Batalon, Sam Reid