A young girl loses her mother and tumbles into a world of demons, vampires and much more. She’s not human, they tell her, but one of the chosen guardians of humanity, the Shadowhunters.
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Developed for TV By: Ed Decter
Network: Freeform (formerly ABC Family)
Air Date: Currently Airing on Tuesdays
I didn’t see The Mortal Instruments film. I saw the trailer and it felt like more of the same young adult claptrap that’s invaded Hollywood. I didn’t know Shadowhunter was part of the same series, but a name like Shadowhunters and with a description that spoke of demon hunting in the modern era, you know I’m going to watch it, my urban fantasy love dragging me to give it a shot…and so I did.
Disappointment is too mild a word for what I feel right now.
I won’t even try to explain the plot because we’ve all seen it in the past. Young girl with tremendous power is hidden away in the mortal world to hide from some unspeakable evil. Said evil finds them, and while the parents sacrifice themselves, the girl/boy goes on to join others of her kind and become the hero they’ve all been waiting for. It works very well for novels like Percy Jackson & The Olympians (sans the parent sacrifice), but here it’s trite.
Ok, let’s give you the plot. On her 16th birthday, Clary discovers she’s not human but someone with Angelic blood, or 1 quarter considering she’s the daughter of two Shadowhunters aka Nephilim—because I know my biblical references. Her mother sends her away through a portal to her boyfriend, a werewolf cop played by the only convincing actor on the cast, Isaiah Mustafa aka “The Old Spice guy.” But on arrival she hears him talk to villainous types about villainous things so she runs back home. Before she gets there though, her mother fights her attackers and takes a sleeping potion just before they can capture her, so their leader can’t interrogate her, though they still take her with them.
When Clary returns home, she finds a family friend there only she’s been replaced by a shape-shifting demon that tries to kill her. At which point Jace, another Shadowhunter she met earlier, saves her life and takes her to the Shadowhunter HQ, for protection and training. Jace is the typical perfect male interest in young adult novels, amazing at everything but emotional things. He’s distant and doesn’t understand concepts of love or friendship, yet has a strangely intense ‘bond’ (his words, not mine) with a fellow Shadowhunter, Simon, who’s even surlier than he is. Simon’s sister is the scantily clad femme fatale. She’s nice and while she has tons of abilities and powers, the only thing she uses is her body.
That brings you up to the end of the first two episodes. I’ve seen three so far, you haven’t missed much.
I’ll get the only good thing out of the way early. It’s visually interesting. The special effects are good, and the minimally used CGI is pretty convincing, particularly for everything dealing with the hunters’ rune magic. It’s pretty neat.
Now onto the bad things…
The characters are bland, a collection of young adult novel stereotypes. There’s the emotionally unavailable romantic lead, his extremist best friend and bromance, the unrequited love best friend, the relatable monster of a villain and every other character type in the book. Characters have no depth, nothing beyond their defined roles in the plot. Even attempts at backstories and complications are shallow. Of course Jace has connections with the bad guys, inherited from his parents, and of course Carly’s mother was the villain’s girlfriend—and if you follow that thread you’ll know another ‘major’ spoiler.
Characters and plot are by the numbers young adult urban fantasy. There’s nothing original here, nothing unpredictable. While the concept of the world the series takes place on is intriguing, the way the stories develop are just not. You can tell where things will go from the moment the day’s conflict presents itself and I groaned at the way things eventually happen on screen. It’s just terrible writing from screenwriters who haven’t learned the lesson of a decade of similarly themed TV series.
Performances are abysmal, and Katherine McNamara has the emotional range of a teaspoon, something I thought only applied to Hayden Christensen. But no, these actors make his Anakin Skywalker look like a Marlon Brando performance. As the series’ lead, McNamara’s job is to be the one character we care about, the link we have to this world and the person we’ll feel something about moving forward but the only look on her face is that of a lost puppy. I know it sounds harsh, harsher than I usually am, but if you saw it, you’d realise I was right.
The rest of the cast—save for Isaiah—aren’t much better. One of the tenets of writing and performing emotionally unavailable characters is that you treat them as hardboiled guys and gals in a detective novel. They have emotions, they just bottle them up, but you can see it in their eyes and actions. Jace and Simon, on the other hand, are complete blanks, with no emotion, no reaction, as if the actors never heard the director shout “Action!”
Let’s not talk about the props shall we…I mentioned the special effects were good, but once they’re done and we’re left with the obviously plastic ‘light swords’, I lose all confidence in the series. The knives look completely amateurish and keep digging a deep hole for a series that has just begun. Action scenes are just as bland with clumsy fights that instead of making the heroes look badass just make the enemies look incompetent.
The soundtrack, a collection of nightclub songs, is passable.
In the future I need to remember that even if a series’ name sounds cool, there’s always a good chance that it won’t be. And Shadowhunters is the prime case. It has nothing worth watching, unless you’re there just to mock it, in which case you’ll have endless ammunition.
1.5/5 – Bad