Warning: This story contains spoilers for the Season Three finale of What We Do in the Shadows, which aired tonight on FX and will be streaming on Hulu starting on Friday Oct. 29.
The penultimate episode of the third season of What We Do in the Shadows featured one of the more shocking moments in recent sitcom history: Superhumanly boring “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) lies on his mattress, apparently dead at the end of the 100-year life cycle for any energy vampire. His housemate Nandor (Kayvan Novak), recalling all the times Colin Robinson faked his death to prank and annoy Nandor, Laszlo (Matt Berry), and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), begins rapping on Colin’s head to wake him up. Instead, his fist smashes straight through Colin’s extremely-deceased skull.
Sitcoms do occasionally kill off main characters, though it’s usually in extraordinary circumstances that either involve the actor dying in real life (Phil Hartman on NewsRadio) or the actor having a very public falling-out with the creative team (Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men) or the network (Roseanne Barr on Roseanne/The Conners). Proksch is very much alive, and by all accounts a polite and easygoing actor. Killing off Colin Robinson when everyone was perfectly happy with Proksch’s work — when Colin was perhaps the most reliable source of humor on TV’s funniest show — is the kind of thing that simply isn’t done.
But it was that very reliability that made Colin a target for death. And the supernatural nature of the Shadows world made it possible to kill off Colin without losing Proksch. In the season finale’s closing moments, we see Laszlo discovering that Colin Robinson hasn’t so much died as begun the 100-year life cycle all over again, and is now crawling around the basement of their Staten Island home in the form of a baby with Proksch’s head atop its body.
Rolling Stone spoke with Proksch, Shadows showrunner Paul Simms, and writer Sam Johnson about the creative birth of Baby Colin, the physical challenges of shooting this new version of the character while they’re in production on Season Four, why Laszlo’s beloved alter ego Jackie Daytona didn’t reappear this season, the use of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week” as the anthem for Nandor’s brief attempt to play human, and more.
Where did the idea for Baby Colin come from?
Simms: It came from us having arguments and discussions in the writers room about what is an energy vampire and where do they come from, and us not knowing or being able to figure out a satisfactory answer, and then saying, “Well, why don’t we make that Colin’s search? He doesn’t know, so why doesn’t he search for it.”
Johnson: We had an idea in the room that Colin molted, that he shed his skin. But Paul really turned that into let’s make that a whole central part of this change.
Simms: Mark, was it exciting that the other way this was going to go would be for Colin to slither out of his body like a snake?
Proksch: I kind of figured you would take something from my real life, so…
Simms: Write what you know!
Mark, how did you find out about it?
Proksch: I actually found out a few hours after the table read for the episode in which I die. Paul had forgotten to let me know that I died. I figured they would not kick me off the show or anything, and I had no plans on leaving the show. He called me a few hours later and laid out what was going to happen. I was on board. It’s a twist that I don’t think many people see coming, and I think it’s a really funny one.
Simms: I did have a big fantasy, when we’d written the whole season, of shooting as much as we could without Mark knowing. But since we read all our scripts before we start shooting, I realized there wasn’t any way to do it. And later I realized that’s kind of a lousy thing to do to an actor.
Proksch: I wouldn’t have cared.
Colin, in the form we’ve seen for these three seasons, was a really funny character. Did you feel like you had taken him as far as he could go, comedically?
Simms: [Writer] Stefani Robinson was the one who, after Season One, was like, “We can’t just have Colin boring people. It’s fun, and when we find new twists to do, it’s fun. But it’s too easy to fall back on him telling a boring story and people falling asleep because he’s so exhausting.” That’s why in the next two seasons, he became more a part of the group and a fleshed-out character. And this, again, came from our failure to figure out what the background of an energy vampire is, to make it a mystery for Colin himself.
Proksch: It’s great, because the last thing in the world a comedic actor wants to turn into is an Urkel or a Fonzie or anyone with a catchphrase. So if you repeat over and over the thing that everyone loves from the first season, and that’s all you do for the entire run, you’re going to be hated.
Simms: If we’d done that, Colin would be telling boring stories and Jackie Daytona would be in every other episode.
Was there a Jackie Daytona pitch for this season at any point?
Simms: There really wasn’t. There was the question of, “Should we do a Jackie Daytona?” And then all of us saying, “No. It was a special thing, and let’s leave it a special thing. Let’s try to come up with something else that’s as surprising.” I feel like it was nice to do an episode that focused so much on one character, and that’s how Nandor splitting off to join the wellness vampires who are trying to live as humans came about.
The Nandor episode is great, but it has lodged that Barenaked Ladies song in my head ever since. How did you land on “One Week” as the avatar of all things mundanely human?
Simms: It wasn’t even like a list of “which one is better?” That one immediately came to us and seemed perfect. Very early on, the idea of hearing Kayan do those lyrics made us laugh. It might also be the fact that we shoot in Canada, and it’s like the national anthem up here. You hear it three times a day here.
Mark, what was it like to physically film the baby Colin scenes? Were you in a motion-capture suit?
Proksch: I don’t require a mo-cap. It was actually completely painless. I don’t really do much of anything. I did some off-camera green-screen work with it. But I think the majority of it is digital.
Simms: Like our best effects, it’s a combination of digital and our prosthetics people building an amazing baby body. If you see the raw footage of the baby, there’s three puppeteers in full green-screen suits making all the limbs work.
Without spoiling what you’re filming for Season Four right now, did those brief glimpses of Baby Colin give you insight into how long you’d be able to get away with filming that version of the character?
Simms: Filming the little chunk at the end of this episode was deceptively easy. And now we are realizing the corner we’ve painted ourselves into. We are succeeding, but the challenges are so much greater than we thought.
Speaking of painting yourselves into a corner, you also scattered your five main characters to the winds, with Laszlo staying in New York with Baby Colin, Nandor beginning his solo world tour, and Guillermo being forced to accompany Nadja to England when he wanted to travel with Nandor and be turned into a vampire. Did you write this finale knowing how you’d deal with that in Season Four, or did you have to figure it out later?
Simms: The first two seasons, we just ended on a big exciting thing, not knowing how we were going to get ourselves out of it — first revealing that Guillermo was a vampire hunter, then with Guillermo saving the vampires from being murdered. This time, Baby Colin just gave us an idea of where the next season would go. But as far as scattering everyone to the four winds, we were like, “Let’s just do it, and we’ll figure it out later.”
Johnson: The last two episodes of that season, they were almost written at the last minute. So we really don’t know what’s happening until halfway through filming.
In both last week’s episode and the finale, there are montages from throughout the season that place stories in new context, first with us realizing that Laszlo has known all along that Colin was dying, and then with us seeing the chain of events that made Nandor so depressed. Were those ideas planned out in advance?
Simms: The Colin and Laszlo thing was well planned out, and it worked successfully, in that we were talking about it, [and] there were people online halfway through the season asking, “Why are Laszlo and Colin hanging out? Colin’s so annoying and Laszlo is so easily annoyed! Why would Laszlo put up with him? They must be running out of ideas!” And I was just like, “Perfect. That is exactly the trap I wanted you to walk into.” As early as the second episode is the scene where Laszlo tears the page out of the book, which in that episode just seems like a joke about him wacking off. That was a matter of wanting to lay the breadcrumbs but not have anyone notice what is going on. I wanted to hoist these online people by their own petards!
Johnson: This show’s all about laying traps. We don’t care if anybody watches it. We just want to trap people.
In the ninth episode, the vampires lie to the vampiric council members that Nandor is dead. In the finale, we don’t learn how the council members reacted to discovering the lie. What happened?
Simms: I don’t know if they actually found out that he was alive. They’re upstairs having their party, and—
But Donal Logue’s a member of the council, and he’s in the finale painting everyone’s portrait. What happened, Paul? The people demand answers!
Simms: Oh, shit. We gotta re-edit before — what, does this air tonight? Oh my god! [Everyone laughs.] You know what? Donal is a vampire, but he’s also an actor. He knows that it’s all a grand charade(*).
(*) Author’s note: Simms immediately insisted that we explain that he used the French pronunciation of “charade” (shuh-RAHD) because if people thought he was using the English one (shuh-RAID), “I’m going to sound like the world’s biggest a-hole.”
You’ve used actors before from vampire movies to play themselves as vampires. Had Donal been on one of those lists for previous episodes?
Simms: He was at the top of the list. I’d actually known him in college. I remember seeing him in Blade and going, “Holy shit, that’s a guy I know from college!” But after what we wrote for him in Episode Nine was so funny, we decided to have him stick around and paint the portrait, and he really ad-libbed some great stuff, some actor-y stuff about having to put himself on tape for an SVU episode. Though the bit about painting the front gate of the CBS Radford studio was a sentimental one of mine, because that’s where we filmed Larry Sanders.
Finally, Mark, you said you didn’t want people to get tired of the original version of Colin Robinson. Do you miss getting to play that guy, though?
Proksch: Uh… [long pause] Without giving too much away, no, not really. I think he’s had a great run. I’m of the belief that you give people a little bit and then you go away, and move onto something else. So I think this is a really smart move on the writers’ part. And we’ll see what Season Four and beyond hold for Colin Robinson.
Simms: Mark definitely has some challenges this season: performance challenges, technical challenges, all sorts of challenges. But if it works, it’s gonna be great!
Proksch: If it works.