A comedy-drama about vampires and a high drama/satire of corporate culture would, on the face of it, seem unlikely bedfellows. Yet What We Do in the Shadows (FX 2019-present, from now WWDitS) and Succession (HBO/Sky 2017-2023) communicate in a number of ways, though the former not only comments upon the latter but arguably predisposes the audience towards particular readings of the latter. In this blog I shall illustrate how WWDitS blurs the line between intertext and paratext through a close reading of its intertextual references to Succession and how those intertexts function paratextually. This is important because paratexts guide or direct audience interpretation; industrially-created paratexts can direct audiences towards the preferred reading (or be used to mislead or surprise the audience) whereas fan-created paratexts can direct audiences to any of a number of readings.
For those unfamiliar with WWDitS, it is a mockumentary (a la The Office, BBC 2000-2002) following the lives of four vampires– Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Laszlo (Matt Berry), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and energy-vampire Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) plus Nandor’s human familiar/everyone’s bodyguard Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén). Four series have aired, with the fourth having aired after series 3 of Succession, and a fifth series of WWDitS is scheduled for later this year. In my first blog for CST I gave a precis of the corporate satire Succession; here I would note that the intertexts in both series tend to be centred around Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) and their relationship which, as of WWDitS series 4/Succession 3.9, was a will-they/won’t-they relationship with Tom having professed his love and attraction (3.4) but Greg not having explicitly stated his feelings. The series are connected through Jesse Armstrong, the creator/executive producer of Succession who is also an executive consultant on WWDitS, though exactly how much input he has into WWDitS is unclear.
Gray (2010) notes that intertexts can convey a great deal of information to the audience, sometimes also in a seemingly contradictory or subversive way (cf Tulloch 1990: 149, Fiske 1987: 108-127) assuming that the audience is familiar with the referenced texts (cf Nelson 1997: 22). Intertexts can be used to connect strong brands, engage playfully with the audience through breaking the fourth wall and, in some cases, explicitly comment upon other texts. While any of these would be valid areas for analysis, in this particular blog I am focusing upon text so let’s get to that close reading I promised.
Clear intertexts to WWDitS on Succession are not terribly common, no doubt owing to the difficulty of discussing vampires in a corporate satire. Though there are two extended references that can potentially be read, the only obvious one is from series 2 where Greg briefly considers moving to Staten Island, where the vampires’ nest is located. Tom teases him about taking the Staten Island Ferry to work, connecting this with Bryan Ferry, whose better-known works include ‘Slave to Love’ and ‘Love is the Drug [for Me]’ which also can relate to their relationship. Implicit intertexts, though, can be read in that both Tom and Greg are liminal, in many respects and, as such, are ‘in the shadows.’ Both are non-elites, with Greg being from a minor branch of the Roy(al) bloodline and Tom being a provincial noble who married in, but Tom, like all of the vampires and Guillermo, is diegetically queer. At the time WWDitS series 4 aired, however, it was unclear if Greg was queer; that he is in a small, windowless office, however, can be read as Greg being in a/the closet, a metaphor often used of queer people who are hiding their orientations. Tom only expresses his love and attraction within Greg’s office, reinforcing this; that Tom destroys Greg’s office in joy just before kissing him on the forehead in 3.7– remembering that a synonym for ‘happy’ is ‘gay’– and then leaves the door open when he exits the scene can then be read as Greg’s closet being destroyed, giving Greg the option to leave it. But as of WWDitS series 4 even the possibility of a relationship between Tom and Greg is known only to them and to the audience– they are, again, in the shadows. Finally, Greg tends to hide in plain sight to avoid negative attention which, yet again, puts him in the shadows. Thus thematically the two characters match WWDitS and the liminality inherent in characters such as vampires who will burn to ashes in sunlight and who are also explicitly queer.
This, then, moves the blog on to WWDitS. In series 4 there are a number of explicit references to Succession, focusing primarily, though not exclusively, around Nandor and Guillermo’s relationship. Nandor was an elite warrior and ruler and was bisexual even before he became a vampire– in 4.2 he states that ‘some of [his] wives were girl wives and some of [his] wives were guy wives’– while Guillermo, his familiar, is part of the line of vampire-hunter van Helsing, but wants to be a vampire and is canonically gay. Thus it is not by any means a one-to-one analogue with Tom and Greg; the same themes are present but characteristics are mixed. Their relationship grows throughout the series– from series 1 it was clear that Guillermo was in love with/attracted to Nandor, but Nandor has only recently begun to express the fact that he cares about Guillermo, though not explicitly love, and this is done primarily through actions and performance rather than explicit statements. In that, Nandor is closer to Greg through series 3.
Guillermo, the ‘assistant,’ notes in 4.2 that he is ‘not a eunuch,’ likely referencing Tom’s castration-based declaration of love to Greg, but Guillermo is also fiercely protective of all of the vampires. Up through the end of series 3 Tom has generally protected Greg as his love for him has grown, while Greg has primarily protected himself. Being a bloodline elite can be read as being analogous to being vampiric, which tracks to Greg more than Tom. Thus meaning, as Hall (1980) put it, floats. This allows for subversion and play with regard to intertexts– more than just winking at the audience to connect strong brands, the intertexts can be intentionally utilised for misleads and/or mutability. Because both WWDitS and Succession were continuing series during the time I am analysing, intertexts can be read in this way, i.e., WWDitS series 4 functioning as perceived-foreshadowing for series 4 of Succession as well as commenting on previous series.
In addition to potentially bringing in a new, crossover audience and encouraging DVD or streaming/download sales, it is functioning as a sort of crossover forensic fandom (Mittell 2013). WWDitS 4.3 is a particularly good example of how this can function. An overarching serial arc of series 4 was Nadja opening a vampire nightclub, which she did with Guillermo’s help. In an attempt at drawing in patrons, she coaxes a vampire musician out of retirement. The musician’s name is ‘Richie Suck’ which can just in isolation be read as a critique of wealth and a connection between vampirism and the (ultra)rich. Richie’s manager/familiar, who kisses him on the forehead in his first scene (a la Tom kissing Greg on the forehead in 3.7), is named DJ Tom Schmidt. The given name coupled with the kiss makes the reference clear; that the ostensible manager is also in a subordinate/assistant role can also be read as conflating Tom and Greg. ‘Schmidt,’ German for ‘Smith,’ also can be read as referencing that both Tom and Greg have Germanic surnames as opposed to the Roys (Norman French for ‘kings’). Over the course of the episode, Richie comes to believe that DJ Tom is not looking out for his best interests, that DJ Tom cares about another band more than him and ultimately throws DJ Tom to a crowd of vampires, leading to DJ Tom being turned into a vampire. While this can be read as both Tom and Greg having been abandoned and betrayed at various times by various members of the Roy family, because 3.9 ended with Tom and Greg having defected to Logan’s side over Shiv and the kids, it can also imply that Tom and/or Greg will be harmed (though Succession’s harm tends to be emotional rather than physical) in series 4. Greg’s status as a bloodline relation, however distant, plus the visual intertext of the kiss, can also be read as anticipating the possibility that Greg will betray Tom in series 4.
The way in which this plotline ends is also relevant to this argument. After DJ Tom is turned into a vampire– something that he and most familiars want, remember, though not generally under these circumstances– there is a fight between him, Richie and various members of the audience. The fight is halted, however, when Colin Robinson takes the stage and begins singing show tunes. This calms everyone and gets Colin a performing job in Nadja’s club. While that is part of another serial arc in the series (Laszlo becoming Colin’s de facto parent and manager), what is relevant is that the perceived connection between musical theatre and homosexuality can also be read as commenting upon Succession. The implication is that, if Tom at least accepts his orientation then it will help him emotionally; Tom does express love and attraction to Greg in 3.4 and it does help their relationship, however defined. As of WWDitS series 4 Greg’s orientation and feelings are unclear; that said, WWDitS 4.7 can be read as supporting the argument that Greg reciprocates Tom’s feelings by yet another intertext. In that episode, which also features Guillermo coming out as gay to his family, a vampire is first referred to as ‘He who shall not be named’ but then we are immediately told that his name is Greg. This evokes the ‘love who dare not speak its name’ from Wilde’s Two Loves and the complementary plotline can be read as supporting the reading that Greg is not only the object of love but also is capable of feeling same-gender love and attraction.
The complementary plotline in 4.3 also reinforces an intertextual reading. In this complement, Guillermo helps Nandor negotiate with a djinn so that Nandor’s wish for a larger penis (due to his wife’s return) is not somehow reinterpreted by the djinn into something Nandor does not want. As we have seen throughout Succession, Greg has been learning from Tom as well as the Roys about how to negotiate (cf 3.4 in which Greg showing this skill off is the precursor to Tom’s declaration of love). When thanking Guillermo (when they are still with the djinn) Nandor sarcastically says that every time he uses his new penis he’ll think of Guillermo. Naturally, the djinn makes this happen, but between this, Nandor’s diegetic bisexuality and the fact that Nandor later changes his resurrected wife’s body into a copy of Guillermo’s then-boyfriend, we can see how many of the references to Tom and Greg’s relationship are recontextualised across the Nandor-Guillermo relationship but in such a way as to imply or support the reading that Greg reciprocates Tom’s feelings. This, then, coupled with the fact that the characters in WWDitS directly address the audience due to its mockumentary genre, reinforces the idea that the series is commenting upon Succession and arguing for and/or predisposing the audience to interpret both relationships in ways which complement and/or rely upon the other. In short, the intertexts, and, as such, both series, are functioning paratextually as well (Gray 2010).
Both series have some textual or thematic elements in common (e.g., a queer will-they/won’t-they relationship between a boss and assistant, all of whom are liminal in some way, as well as showing off the damaged humanity of those who other texts tend to characterise as villains or monsters). This illustrates how two or more series, despite not seemingly in the same diegetic universe and with only a single overlapping production team member (whose impact on one series is unclear), can function paratextually with each other to reinforce or support certain readings, though because the exact relationship and input between the two series through Armstrong is unknown to the audience it makes whether or not the audience are being directed to a preferred reading or an intentional mislead ambiguous This does not conflict at all with the industrial reasons for intertextual communication, but it illustrates how texts, intertexts and paratexts can fulfil functions as disparate as bringing in new audiences, playing with its own (hyper)diegesis to engage both new and returning audiences (Hills 2002) and create a textual tapestry that rewards reviewing (with all the industrial and fan-enjoyable aspects therein). By bringing these sorts of analyses out of the shadows, we, as media scholars, can combine them with our understandings of industry and audience to better succeed.
Dr Melissa Beattie is a recovering Classicist who was awarded a PhD in Theatre, Film and TV Studies from Aberystwyth University where she studied Torchwood and national identity through fan/audience research as well as textual analysis. She has published and presented several papers relating to transnational television, audience research and/or national identity. She will be joining the American University of Phnom Penh in August 2023 as an Assistant Professor of English/Humanities. She has previously worked at universities in the US, Korea, Pakistan and Armenia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 In addition to Macfadyen having starred in Ripper Street (BBC 2012-2017), Laszlo from WWDitS is stated to have been Jack the Ripper. Thus Ewan’s (James Cromwell) statement in 2.8 (‘The “Logan Roy School of Journalism”? What’s next: the Jack the Ripper Women’s Health Clinic”?’) can be read as doubly intertextual. Tom’s expressed desire in 1.9 that he and Shiv should run away to New Zealand can be read as a doubly-intertextual reference to Flight of the Conchords (HBO 2008-2009), co-created by WWDitS co-creator Jemaine Clement and featuring Rhys Darby (Stede in Our Flag Means Death, who I talk about extensively in another blog) as a band manager/NZ Embassy official with an assistant called Greg. Though Murray was concerned about whether or not his Greg liked him, it is not a romantic relationship. That said, because of this reference and the connection between production teams via WWDitS, we can potentially connect Tom and Greg, Nandor and Guillermo AND Stede and Ed in this way.
 ‘Love is the Drug’ was also used in The Great Gatsby (2013); F Scott Fitzgerald, like Tom, is from St Paul, MN.
 A brief section in 4.5 shows the vampires’ human neighbour, Sean (Anthony Atamanuik) comparing polyamory to being a ‘hippie,’ as Tom does in 1.10; this is almost immediately followed by Sean expressing unwavering support of what he interprets as Nandor– going by the pseudonym ‘Matthew’– and Lazslo being in a relationship and strong condemnation of what he misinterprets as Guillermo being homophobic. Clearly this evokes Tom as well.
 Greg’s surname of ‘Hirsch’ relates to the herding of deer whilst Tom’s surname of ‘Wambsgans’ relates to the herding of geese (-gans). In addition to this possibly explaining why Stede in Our Flag Means Death used to fear geese (1.2) both of these surnames relate to pastoralism. ‘Wambs-’ is also etymologically identical to ‘vamps-’ as in ‘vampire,’ the ‘s’ implies a German possessive (i.e., Tom is possessed/owned/controlled by a bloodline or by the vampire-analogues).
 This is a clear reference to Murray in Flight of the Conchords, as described in note 1 and reinforces that intertext as well.
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