Living in America means being constantly annoyed. While this feeling isn’t a uniquely American experience, life in this country does seem like it’s predisposed towards being annoying in uniquely American ways. Consider any number of our most deeply-established institutions: Private health insurance, internet service providers, Congress, the Fortnite Battle Pass — layers of compulsory bureaucracy complicating what probably should be rather straightforward tasks. Dozens of little things constantly waiting to sap you of your enthusiasm at every turn, like a vampire. A very different kind of vampire, but a horrifying one all the same.
The FX comedy What We Do in the Shadows isn’t just a television adaptation of a movie, it’s an American take on a New Zealand work. While the show’s premise — a bunch of vampire roommates trying to enjoy modern life while being stuck in their archaic and blood-sucking ways — is identical, the series follows new characters distinct from the 2014 film. In its first few episodes, it’s quite similar to the movie but with one big exception: Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), its most annoying character, and also its best.
Colin Robinson (one should always use his full name) is an invention exclusive to the TV version of Shadows. As an “energy vampire”, Colin Robinson does not have fangs or drink blood. Instead, he feeds on the life force of others by simply exhausting them with bad jokes, long diatribes no one cares about, and a superhuman lack of urgency in all things. Anything a person can do to make your eyes glaze over is his specialty, and once they do, he feeds.
At first, calling Colin Robinson the best character on What We Do in the Shadows can seem like a stretch — particularly because he is actually annoying. He delights in office small talk and happily drones on about motion smoothing on TV, almost exclusively for audiences that do not care in the least. The comedy comes from his efficacy, and the way other characters unfailingly blunder into the perfect opportunity to be drained by Colin. Watch a supercut of his shenanigans, and it’s absolutely maddening stuff.
What We Do in the Shadows wisely uses Colin Robinson as a spice throughout its first two seasons, a bit of droll comedy to contrast with the antics of his roommates: the wildly horny Laszlo (Matt Berry), his wife Nadja (Natasia Demitrou), their petty leader Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and their pet familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén). An exceptionally clever show, Shadows behaves like each season is not telling one overarching story — most episodes are entirely standalone — but always is. What We Do in the Shadows is always world-building (season 1 eventually reveals that there’s a whole vampiric council), and always doing it with jokes (Wesley Snipes is on it, because he was in Blade). In its recently-concluded third season, that throughline was all about Colin Robinson.
Early on in the season, Colin Robinson becomes curious about his origins — as an invention of the show, and one different from typical vampire tropes What We Do in the Shadows parodies, the audience has no frame of reference for energy vampire lore. Turns out that’s because the characters have no idea either, so every once in a while, they try to find out more. They never get any real answers, but they do learn one surprising thing: Colin Robinson is dying.
In this sudden turn, the writers of season 3 of What We Do in the Shadows are able to remix a funny relationship — it’s hard to mourn a roommate you don’t like much — and underline what might be the show’s most incisive point.
It’s easy to forget this because they’re all bumbling goofballs, but this is a show about monsters. Nadja, Laszlo, and Nandor are all Old World bloodsuckers, ancient horrors from abroad settling in Staten Island. Most of their jokes are classic fish-out-of-water comedy. Nandor is a former warlord settling into domesticity, Laszlo is an out-of-touch libertine with eclectic tastes, Nadja is unusually attuned to the supernatural in ways that makes life weirder for everyone. Colin Robinson, however, is a newer, plainer creature of American habits. He is passive aggressive hostility personified, the kind of person that makes most sense in a place where, as the old joke goes, the bill from a hospital stay is enough to send you back to the hospital. His is the horror that happens when it becomes verboten to address uncomfortable things directly, to give a name to the ways in which we harm or discomfort others. His vampirism is one of casual entitlement and selfishness, wreaking havoc on the ability of those around him to know peace.
When you know he’s in the room and what he’s doing, Colin Robinson is extremely funny. When you don’t, though? That’s what makes an energy vampire the perfect horror monster: They could be any one of us, ready to drain at any moment. That’s the real power of annoyance: It makes it impossible to get anything — be it health insurance, government, or even a bunch of work emails — done. And so here, in America, we do nothing.
What We do in the Shadows is currently streaming via FX on Hulu.