As was always inevitable, Baby Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) grew up.
The fourth season of FX's Emmy-nominated and Metacritic Must-Watch comedy What We Do in the Shadows (Metascore: 83) followed Colin's rapid development from rambunctious toddler to child performer to moody teen, all while Laszlo (Matt Berry) tried to steer him away from becoming an energy vampire. Since Baby Colin — or, as Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) called him, "that little tap-dancing freak that crawled its way out of the abdominal cavity of dead Colin Robinson" — emerged, his housemates didn't know whether he's their old friend reborn or an entirely new entity.
But, the Season 4 finale "Sunrise, Sunset" answered that question. Colin's mysterious urge to hammer holes in his old room led him to discover a secret closet full of diaries and beige cardigans. The diaries restored his memory, completing his transformation back to the original Colin Robinson. Once again a full-fledged energy vampire, he returned to droning on about receipts and tax deductions, with no memory of Laszlo raising him over the past year. It's a surprisingly wistful end, bookended by Laszlo performing "Sunrise, Sunset" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a haunting song about parents wondering where the time has gone.
"I would not have anticipated that [the] episode would have had the bittersweetness that it did," showrunner Paul Simms tells Metacritic. "I'd like to say that we had a big grand plan that we had mapped out, but part of it is that every season we drop a bombshell and then try to figure out how to paint our way out of it."
At the end of the third season, What We Do in the Shadows killed Colin Robinson as he was celebrating his 100th birthday. But he then seemed to be reborn as a baby, with an adult face.
"We wanted to have the growth of a person from a baby to an adult all within 10 episodes and have it just all fly by almost too quickly the way it does in real life," Simms says of aging Colin from his infant form to adulthood throughout Season 4. "I'm anticipating what I'm going to go through in eight years when my kids don't remember all the fun stuff we did together when they were little kids. Just to end things on a down note, that's where my head's at."
Through Baby Colin, What We Do in the Shadows gave a supernatural riff to a classic sitcom parenting plot. His presence deepened the show's exploration of its mostly undead, completely dysfunctional found family, especially Laszlo and Colin's odd pairing as the vampire who's easiest to annoy and the energy vampire who feeds by annoying people.
"Laszlo's the last person you would expect to be a dad or a parent because he's such a curmudgeon. Even through the season, he never gets super soft about Colin. He's always tough on him. It was interesting because him staying behind and taking care of the baby was out of a sense of honor and duty about protecting something that's helpless," Simms says.
Depicting Colin through the ages posed an exciting new challenge for Proksch, as well.
"Whether you're a writer or an actor or what have you, you can start to fall into a rut as far as the character is concerned, and you don't want that to happen," Proksch says. "If you're worth your weight, I think that you recognize that when that's happening, and you pivot, and that's what I think the writers did in such a great way."
"We wanted him to be still annoying and exhausting, but not in the usual monotonous way Colin is. You know, we love our kids, but they can tire you out," Simms adds.
As Colin grew up, he fixated on a range of interests including Roblox, YouTube, LEGO, and Stephen Sondheim. These interests came straight from Simms' kids, besides his own personal love for musical theater, which was especially key for once Colin began singing at Nadja's nightclub.
"It's always fun to get to do song and dance when you're not a song and dance person," Proksch says. "And like Paul [has] said, the over-enthusiasm that musical theater people have for musical theater borderlines on cult-like behavior. It's always fun to stick your toe into that."
Throughout Season 4, What We Do in the Shadows also found humor in Baby Colin's Uncanny Valley appearance. Rather than something more realistic, Proksch's head was put on top of child actors' bodies, where it looked comically disproportionate. (Some of the young actors also appeared in the penultimate episode "Freddie" as child performers auditioning for the nightclub — this time, with their own heads.)
"Mark has said before that we just didn't want to make it 'Baby Colin cute' because all of a sudden you're into like Full House where they introduce a baby or something," Simms says. "But with Mark's head on a kid's body, I don't think we were ever really in danger of it being overly cute. But then at the same time there's still scenes I watch [like], 'Oh, that's sweet.' I forget completely that it's this weird little creature."
"My mom thinks he's cute. That's all that matters, my mom and my wife," Proksch jokes. "He's grotesque, and he should be grotesque. There's nothing worse than a comedic actor who gives a sh-- about their appearance."
"Even before we had gotten to the idea of Colin dying, much earlier on, we had talked about some things from Twilight that we wanted to pay homage to, and the Twilight baby was one of them. Obviously the Twilight baseball game was another one and we did that with the kickball game," Simms says.
Pulling off the visual effects required a lot of fine tuning. "Especially at the beginning of this season, a lot of people were like, 'Wow, that's a great editing plugin they have. Face replacement technology is really getting good.' I was like, 'No, if only it were that easy,'" Simms says with a laugh.
Although early on, he admits, they hoped to digitally map Proksch's face onto another performer, when looking at the results of that, they felt the technique looked "like a video game," he says, and they changed tactics.
"With all of our planning about everything computers could do, ultimately it was our director Kyle Newacheck who said we should just do it the way they did that Wayans Brothers movie, Little Man, because that looked really good," he says.
So, with the exception of his adult scenes at the end, Proksch performed alone against a green screen, mimicking the movements of the child actors. This brought a unique set of challenges, Simms says, like how Proksch "had to be looking a certain direction and matching the lighting and knowing that we couldn't change the line before or after." Proksch often improvises adult Colin's spiels, something he couldn't do as much this season.
"It was a little constraining in that I couldn't bring in how I perform as adult Colin Robinson into the variations of Colin as he's developing. One, he wouldn't know any of that. Two, he doesn't have the knowledge base that a person as an adult has. Usually when I go on my rants, it's something that I know something about. But Baby Colin or Teen Colin wouldn't know anything about jazz or wine or any of those boring subjects that I actually love," Proksch explains.
The finale's waning minutes marked the return of Colin's classic energy-sucking monologues as he waxes on about tiles to some home renovation contractors, seemingly completely back to his old self. But as he walks away from a melancholy Laszlo, he whistles an upbeat song. Both Proksch and Simms remain cryptic on whether the tune references one of Colin's musical performances or whether it hints that Colin perhaps unconsciously remembers some of his strange childhood.
"I think that whether Colin remembers [the past year] or not, I don't think that'll really inform too much moving forward for Colin anyway. Colin is more calculating than emotional," Proksch says. "I thought [the finale] was pitch-perfect for what our show does, which is [it] leaves you guessing and wondering what the motives and feelings of the characters actually are. It's a silly comedy and it should never become, in my opinion, a dramedy, or get too huggy and emotional because it's supposed to be silly."
"It's really fun and satisfying to write and shoot the little emotional moments we have," Simms adds. "But then whenever you start talking about them, you feel like you're just a windbag who's high on their own whatever, like Mark is absolutely right. This show is a silly, fun cartoon. And every once in a while, just to surprise you, there'll be some moment that makes you burst into tears."