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Jemaine Clement on what distinguishes Wellington Paranormal from What We Do in the Shadows
There's a good chance that you, like a lot of humanity, mentally got through some of 2020 by binge-watching the second season of FX’s comedy hit What We Do in the Shadows. In case you don't know, the series is a sequel to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s 2014 mockumentary film of the same name, which revealed a cluster of disparate vampire flatmates existing in the suburbs of Wellington, New Zealand. And while the TV series also carries the film's name, it features a new cast and locale (Staten Island, New York), but uses the same documentary style aesthetic and filming rules.
Though the Shadows are well lit by this point, you may not be aware that the first spinoff in this universe, Wellington Paranormal, actually debuted as a TV series three years ago on Television New Zealand. It features two of the Wellington cops from the film: Officer Kyle Minogue (Mike Minogue) and Officer Karen O’Leary (Karen O’Leary). The pair make a hilarious house call at the vampire lair in the film, and in the new TV show they continue their accidental pursuit of paranormal cases. Now the U.S. is finally able to get in on the fun as the show debuts July 11 on The CW, with Seasons 1 and 2 airing throughout the summer.
In a virtual media panel attended by SYFY WIRE today, co-creator Jemaine Clement and actors Mike Minogue and Karen O'Leary revealed how Wellington Paranormal came to be.
Clement told the collected reporters that several colleagues suggested back in 2014 when they were filming the movie that the spinoff concept could be a TV show. But it wasn’t until Waititi saw Minogue and O’Leary perform together in their scene that he also saw series potential.
“They were just instantly like a comedy duo and that's rare to find even in existing comedy duos, to have a chemistry and have a real rhythm together immediately,” Clement enthused. In truth, O'Leary was a kindergarten teacher with no acting experience, and Minogue was a long-time production assistant who unexpectedly won an acting part and then played several cop roles in various TV dramas. They never worked together prior to their What We Do in the Shadows scene. "But they both are good listeners and they bounce off each other really well," Clement said. "We just knew as soon as they were on with the camera, we just wanted to follow these guys around a little bit more.”
Because Wellington Paranormal was the first spinoff, with FX’s What We Do in the Shadows following a year later, Clement said they distinguished the two series creatively by their different points of view. “[What We Do in the Shadows] is the perspective of the monsters and this one is the perspective of people going after the monsters.”
“And originally, we had intended it to be scarier,” Clement continued. “The first episode, about the possessed girl, was kind of scary when we first made it and cut it. And then we did the second episode, which was about alien plants. And the plants looked so silly when they moved, you just couldn't make them scary. So, we leaned into that and made it sillier.”
The final edits proved to Clement that the lighter tone created a show he could show his kids, and that set the tone for how all four seasons of Wellington Paranormal have since been written and executed, making it a big hit with Kiwi audiences.
Add to that O’Leary and Minogue’s intensely low-key responses to just about everything they encounter on the job. “New Zealanders find it very difficult to emote, and that's kind of naturally funny to watch people struggling to say how they feel. The understated replies that we have all the time in this show are quite true to the New Zealand character,” Clement said.
The trio confirmed that Season 4 of Wellington Paranormal is in production, which Clement continues to help produce and write. However, Clement shared that this will be the first season of FX's What We Do in the Shadows that he's not involved in the creative, with Season 3 in the hands of ongoing executive producer Paul Simms, and set to premiere on Sept. 2, 2021.