The new Freeform (previously ABC Family) TV Show “Shadowhunters” is the second attempt at adapting the bestselling “Mortal Instruments” book series, which had also been made into an unsuccessful film in 2013. I had read the series in middle school, and though I enjoyed the first few books at the time, by early high school I had grown out of them and realized how badly written they were. I had seen the film and it fully deserved the poor reception that it got, so when I heard that there would be a TV adaptation, I wasn’t too hopeful that I would like it,
However, TV adaptations tend to deviate much more from the source material than movies do, so I thought that maybe they would take the premise of the series and improve upon it. For once, I was hoping that an adaptation would be significantly different from the books, and it was also easier to watch for this reason, as I wasn’t thinking about and picking apart every little difference between the two.
The series premiered on Jan. 12, with a 13-episode order for its first season. Despite my low expectations, there was one thing that made me decide to give it a try, and that was the diverse cast. In the book series, only one out of seven main characters was a person of color, and the film followed suit. The TV show, fortunately, has four non-white actors out of the seven series regulars.
The protagonist of “Shadowhunters” is Clary Fray, played by Katherine McNamara, who discovers that she is a Shadowhunter–a human with angel blood–on her 18th birthday. She witnesses three other Shadowhunters– Jace Wayland, Isabelle Lightwood and Alec Lightwood–kill a demon at the club Pandemonium and is shaken by what she has seen. Her mother, Jocelyn Fray, who was also a Shadowhunter, has hidden her past from Clary, even going as far as erasing her daughter’s memories of anything she witnessed of the shadow world when she was young. That night, her mother is kidnapped by people who work for Valentine, one of the most dangerous and powerful Shadowhunters, previously thought to be dead. With the three Shadowhunters as well as her human best friend, Simon Lewis, Clary works to find her mother and learns about her new role as a Shadowhunter.
Despite how happy I was about the representation within the cast, most of the acting turned out to be less than satisfactory. Dominic Sherwood–who plays Jace, the male lead– is especially bland and makes Jace even more one-dimensional than he was in the books. Matthew Daddario and Harry Shum Jr., who plays Magnus Bane, stand out as particularly talented, but the rest are either mediocre or fall short, leaving viewers feeling second-hand embarrassment as they watch the cringe-worthy acting.
Many of the characters are also very cliché and stereotypical–particularly Jace–the arrogant, attractive love interest–and Simon–the nerdy best friend who has feelings for his best friend. Clary has some potential as a character, being strong willed and reckless when it comes to protecting the people she loves, and so does Isabelle, who is beautiful, free spirited and often uses her sexuality as a weapon.
The most complex character thus far is probably Alec, who is uptight and wary of breaking the rules, clashing with the others as a result. He instantly distrusts Clary and his negative feelings towards her are implied to be jealousy because of Jace’s romantic interest. Magnus Bane is the most interesting character, an immortal warlock who is hundreds of years old, and though he primarily looks out for himself and initially doesn’t want to help the Shadowhunters, he is persuaded and joins them. He is also bisexual, and takes a liking to Alec, his eventual love interest.
Other than Magnus and Alec, the romantic relationships are one of the weakest parts of the show. Clary and Jace are incredibly predictable and their instant attraction is based on nothing. Simon’s crush on Clary is also predictable, and the love triangle is more frustrating to watch than intriguing. Furthermore, the hinted upcoming romance between Simon and Isabelle is also an overdone dynamic. The cheesiness of the poorly-written romances is exacerbated by the awkward dialogue and acting.
The strongest character dynamics are the platonic ones–such as Clary and Simon’s childhood friendship, the growing friendship between Clary and Isabelle, and the familial bond between Jace, Isabelle and Alec. I hope there is further exploration of those relationships. The possible friendships between Clary, Isabelle, Jace, Alec, Simon and Magnus have the potential to make the show a lot more enjoyable and meaningful.
The actual plot of the show isn’t really immediately attention grabbing, though it does get more so as the episodes go on. The pacing is uneven and flawed, and the backstory and mythology can be confusing for those who haven’t read the books.
The most interesting part of it, perhaps, is the different species of Downworlders, who, unlike Shadowhunters, have both angel and demon blood in them. There are vampires, fairies, werewolves, warlocks and many other species. The tensions between all the different kinds and the resulting prejudices have a lot of possibilities for future storylines. Though the show has a mix of action, romance and humor, it hasn’t quite achieved the perfect balance.
All in all, “Shadowhunters” is off to a disappointing and rather campy start, but there is potential for it to improve, if it focuses and expands on its strongest and most interesting aspects. Five episodes have aired so far, and I hope that the quality of the show only goes up. Fans of the book series might enjoy it, and people looking for diversity and LGBTQ representation might want to check it out as well, but others will probably find it lacking thus far.