In 2021, FX’s What We Do in the Shadows delivered another flawless season of television. It might have been even better than the show’s perfect sophomore effort. As the series again featured impeccable writing brought to life by the most talented cast working on television today. The show’s five main stars are each amazing and hilarious on their own. And all have singular moments of brilliance. But they’re even stronger as a unit that brings out the best in one another. Their work together makes it almost impossible for any actor to truly rise above the rest for more than a single scene or episode. And yet that’s exactly what Kayvan Novak did in season three as Nandor’s existential crisis and longing for love led to one of the year’s best performances.
“I would not even remember your name if it wasn’t written on the piece of paper I keep in my pocket at all times.”
Through What We Do in the Shadows‘s first two seasons Nandor most frequently played the Seinfeld equivalent of Jerry. As the group’s de facto leader and—relatively speaking—least absurd vampire, he was often the glue that held plot lines together. (Obviously Guillermo holds the vampires together on the show. But that usually results in him being involved in the most ridiculous events.)
Being the center that everyone else moves around is an inherently less flashy role. Which often means it’s also under appreciated, even though it’s arguably the most important. Jerry is the only Seinfeld character you couldn’t remove from the show. Even a series’ biggest fans can overlook the person tasked with handling that vital position. We’ve certainly been guilty of it ourselves. Despite Novak always being an hilarious Nandor, we’ve written odes to his familiar, Nadja, and Lazslo/Jackie Daytona. But never him. Not until now, after season three finally let Novak loose to have as much fun as his more reckless roommates.
His season-long quest for romance saw the formerly fierce warrior playing a lovesick puppy desperate for a partner. That storyline alone led to comedy gold. Like in the third episode when Nandor tried to marry his on-again/off-again partner Gail. It’s hard to play a sad, passionate, deadly rage monster all at once. But Novak balances the many conflicting sides of Nandor so that we can laugh at him while still feeling pity for him. He can dominate a kickball game with werewolves one minute. Then botch a marriage proposal the next.
“Well, how am I going to eat if I don’t prey on people, dummy?”
But Novak’s true breakout performance—they kind that should lead to an Emmy nod—came in episode two, “The Cloak of Duplication.” Nandor wanted to woo his gym’s receptionist Meg. Unable to do so himself, the other male members of the house went in his stead. Colin Robinson, Laszlo, and Guillermo all wore the cloak to fully transform into Nandor. In an episode that required Kayvan Novak to play all three of his co-stars playing Nandor.
It’s impossible to overstate how good Novak is in this episode. He doesn’t just capture the vastly different physical movements and facial tics of the other three. He also does spot-on voice impressions of them. (Which they should have let him do as Nadja playing Nandor in a mid-credits scene!) All three imitators sound exactly like Colin Robinson, Laszlo, and Guillermo speaking with Nandor’s body. And because all of the characters are well-established, it only gets funnier and funnier each time you see another one inhabit Nandor’s body. Novak is perfect as all of them. As his impersonations feel real authentic without crossing into parody.
“I have not always been so lucky in love. Of course, there were my 37 wives, but they mostly hated me.”
(Honestly, if Novak only did his impression of Matt Berry’s Lazslo this would have been one of the great TV moments of the year. Matt Berry is not actually a vampire, but I’m not convinced he’s of this world either. No one else sounds like him or moves like him. Trying to capture his essence should be impossible. Yet Novak did just that. The best reason to become a vampire is so you can watch this scene for the rest of eternity.)
It was an impossibly great performance on a show where everyone—including a never-ending run of wonderful side characters and guest appearances—is always great and memorable. It was stellar enough on its own to elevate both Novak and Nandor to another level of brilliance. And yet Novak matched that performance—if not outright exceeded it—a second time in season three. Nandor’s wish to leave behind his vampiric life and become human again in episode eight, “The Wellness Center,” is just as impressive.
“Hello, Guillermo. Did you bring more people to yank on my pee-pee?”
From gleefully singing along to the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” and doing jazzercise, to raging about Uncle Sam’s taxes and wearing jeans, Novak is completely untouchable in this episode. He combines physical comedy with impeccable verbal timing. He turns even basic dialogue into laugh-out-loud lines. And he plays the entire spectrum of the character’s ever-changing emotions. All with an energy and presence so powerful it could feed Colin Robinson for a year. His performance is as good as any delivered on a fantastic show.
Only talking about those episodes sells Novak’s season-long genius short. Nandor the Relentless was relentlessly funny from start to finish. Especially as he fell further into despair. His sad existential crisis was a never-ending well of humor. We’d need thousands more words to cover that plot line, let alone every instance when he stood out. Like when he fell into the trappings of casino life and followed that up by fully entering his emo phase. Or when he tried—and repeatedly failed—to enter a “Super Slumber.” And Nandor’s fight with Guillermo, which served as a reminder of Nandor’s fierceness, showed why he is What We Do In the Shadow‘s most dynamic character.
“This Big Bang Theory is actually very good. Very faithful to the slot machine.”
There’s not a bad performance to be found on What We Do in the Shadows. Every member of the cast is perfect for their role. And together they create one of TV’s best ensembles ever. To stand out from a group that talented is truly something special. But that’s exactly what Kayvan Novak did in season three.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can find him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.