I’ve thought about Jackie Daytona from What We Do In The Shadows about once a week since his episode aired in May of 2020. Formally titled, ‘On The Run,’ this is the sixth episode of the show’s second season. I’ve only watched it once prior to working on this essay, but it’s forever ingrained in my memory and I think I finally figured out why that is.
What We Do In The Shadows is just an incredibly well written, performed, and directed television series. For those unfamiliar, the setup behind the show is that a group of centuries old vampires are living together in Staten Island. They are incredibly out of touch with society, and are only really aware of major cultural events that vaguely line up with their own interests; such as Nandor, a relentless former soldier of the Ottoman empire, really liking the dominating force that was the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
Nandor, played by Kayvan Nocak, is the de facto leader of this clan of vampires, but that’s mostly because no one else wants to do it and it’s the only thing he really has going on in his life. Nadja — Natasia Demetriou — and Lazlo — Matt Berry — are a married couple that alternate between being madly in love and at each other’s throats whenever a squabble from their several lifetimes long relationship pops up again. Then there’s the energy vampire Colin Robinson, played by Mark Proksch. We’re not really sure what his deal is, but he feeds off of negative emotions and is exceptionally good at making people upset or frustrated.
Basically, he’s every annoying coworker you’ve ever had.
Anchoring these self-absorbed vampires somewhat is Harvey Guillén’s Guillermo De la Cruz, Nandor’s familiar. Guillermo desperately wants to be a vampire, and became Nandor’s familiar because he thought it’d be the easiest way to achieve that goal. Several years after taking the job, he’s frustrated that he isn’t a vampire and has an existential crisis when he learns that he’s actually really good at killing vampires.
The first season of What We Do In The Shadows mostly focuses on these characters getting into hilarious situations because of their baggage or eccentric personalities. Like when Lazlo ends up in the pound after turning into a bat to mess with their neighbor. Other episodes, and the ones that I tend to like more, focus on exploring tropes in vampire fiction, and showing how they would go in a slightly more realistic setting. Like in the episode ‘The Orgy,’ when Nandor and company fear they’ll be ostracized from vampire culture if their kinky sex party is subpar.
It’s a genuine delight to see this show depict how weird, sad, and horny vampires are, without dressing those characteristics up in any kind of mystique. Just about every vampire in this show is an out of touch theater kid with more confidence than they deserve, and it’s hilarious to watch these barely functioning people explore the lore and rules of their universe. What We Do In The Shadows does what good fantasy storytelling is supposed to, and uses impossible situations to explore the human condition and the societies we create.
Things change abruptly in episode six of season 2, though. Until this point, each episode had focused on these characters living their mostly petty lives in the greater New York area, and bouncing off each other all the while. When Mark Hamill’s Jim the Vampire arrives unexpectedly to collect a debt from Lazlo, the foppish vampire just bails. He puts on a human disguise, renounces the culture and relationship that had defined him for hundreds of years, and fucks off to Pennsylvania because he thinks it sounds cool.
Now going by Jackie Daytona, he starts a brand new life and is pretty successful. He takes over a bar after killing and eating the former owner, becomes a prominent and appreciated member of his community, and helps out the state bound High School Volleyball team as an assistant coach.
Lazlo just decided to stop being a vampire and is having the time of his life as a townie in rural America.
This abrupt shift works for a couple of reasons, with the first being that this episode absolutely nails the feel of small town America. From a hole in the wall bar that’s somehow a cornerstone of the community, to people caring way too much about High School Volleyball, this is what the so-called real America is really like. Having grown up in a community of around 5,000 people, I can confidently say that this is an accurate snapshot of this kind of town. For reasons I still can’t fathom, folks in my hometown lost their goddamn minds when our Volleyball team went to state, but barely got out of bed for the Girl’s Cross Country team which routinely made that level of competition.
This is a really weird idiosyncrasy, but it’s in this episode of What We Do In The Shadows and it speaks to me. It validates an odd, but apparently foundational, experience in my life and that’s what makes Jakie Daytona the television equivalent of an earworm for me. I see this episode of television, and I see the most nostalgic version of where I grew up on screen.
There’s another reason why I think ‘On The Run’ resonated with so many people, though. Like the other episodes of What We Do In The Shadows, this one sells a fantasy that people wish was real. It just hits a lot harder here because the desire behind it is much bigger.
Every character in What We Do In The Shadows represents something that we want to be true in the world. Nandor embodies the idea that those in positions of power really do care about others, and that whatever harm they do comes from incompetence rather than malice. Guillermo as a character makes a viewer believe that they also have inherent worth and that they could be a badass if they just got over their own insecurities. Lazlo and Nadja show that even the most bizarre people can find a romantic partner and that they can make that relationship work.
Then there’s Colin Robinson who validates a viewer’s frustration with the most annoying people in their lives, and feeds the darker impulse of thinking that the people behind these annoyances are acting intentionally; meaning that your anger towards them is completely valid.
Just like all of these other characters, Jackie Daytona — and yes, Jackie Daytona is basically a unique character — depicts an idea that we all want to be true. Jackie Daytona makes us feel like we could also just uproot our lives and be totally fine with wherever we end up. In fact, we might even have a better life waiting for us if we just took a chance and decided that we wanted a change.
I like my life. I think it’s a pretty good one! I can do the things I enjoy pretty easily when there isn’t a pandemic, and I have plenty of people in my life that are usually a part of those experiences. I do find myself wondering from time to time, though, what my life would be like if I made completely different decisions.
Where would I be? Would I be happier? Would I be more successful? Whatever that means.
Jackie Daytona, on top of being a fun idea and incredibly entertaining, makes me feel like I would be okay if my life went differently or if I just decide that I’m sick of my current one. That’s a pretty big comfort, and I think the main reason why I, and so many other people, can’t get Jackie Daytona out of my head.
Also, Colin Robinson turning out to be a ‘what’s your deal?’ guy when he shoots his shot with Doll Nadja and gets rejected, is fucking histerical!
Thank you so much for checking this out. If you enjoyed this essay, please follow me on Twitter, @LucasDeRuyter, to keep up with all of my work. If you’re reading this on BaddaBing BaddaBlog, please like, reblog, and share it on social media. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please like, comment, subscribe, ring the bell, and also share it on social platforms. Lastly, I’m on the Voluntary Viewing podcast, where I talk about pop-culture news, as well as the stuff I’m checking out. So please check that out if you can, as I’ll definitely talk about season three of What We Do In The Shadows when it finally releases.
Thanks again for your support, and best of luck out there.