ABC Family, which is now known as Freeform (Seriously. This is what they went with. That’s almost as dumb as “Syfy”), has always been home to all manner of programming aimed squarely at the “teen girl wish fulfillment” genre. They’re basically the YA-on-TV network given that their most popular show, Pretty Little Liars, is based on a popular book series. Now, with Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments they’re hoping for another adaptation hit with supernatural flair.
Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments is based on the wildly successful Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra
Clare. While the books provided the basis for a little remembered 2013 film, the series seems to be planning on going all out in the world Clare created. That world, a melange of myths, legends, religious icons, and magic has a huge amount of groundwork laid out by Clare. Obviously, I hope they leave some of the more unseemly aspects of Clare’s narrative firmly on the cutting room floor, but the characters were already well drawn in the books.
Our lead Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) is brash and brave. McNamara is playing the character as less terrified of this new world around but more sort of bitterly bemused. Clary is the POV character for the majority of the books so her character is the most filled out and McNamara is bringing a lot of that to the screen. In the books, it takes a while for Clary to do much beyond whine, and while McNamara is given a lot of emotion to play, she is never too over the top.
The rest of the cast on the other hand has taken their roles to the extreme. Dominic Sherwood’s Jace particularly is played as a magic football jock with the emotional range of a cup of coffee. The Lightwood siblings, Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia) are playing exactly one aspect of their characters: uptight and horny respectively, and are holding onto that one bit like a dog with a bone. And Clary’s best friend, Simon (Alberto Rosende) – by far my favorite character from the book – is given standard nerd/unrequited crush stuff to play (It should be noted that while Jace is the love interest, and built like an underwear model/greek god, the pilot’s sole male eye candy shot goes to a completely unmotivated bit of Simon shirtlessness which I found to be an interesting and not unpleasant choice.) but turned up to 11. It all worked with the genre but it all felt very forced to me.
The pilot seems determined to lay as much ground work as possible while leaving a lot to still be explained. The exposition never feels clunky or over the top, and even the flashbacks are well-timed and not overlong.
I wanted to hate this. The books have left me increasingly soured on the universe (I have not seen the film, nor read past book 5) and I only decided to watch the series in hopes of them righting the ship. I will say that with some of the narrative changes they’ve made to the beginning of the story, it really helps Clary – and by extension the viewer – get into the meat of the story faster and more efficiently. I feel like this is a great series for Freeform to launch on as it’s an established property with a built in fanbase. But, with a subject matter that hews maybe a little to close to The CW’s Supernatural and MTV’s Teen Wolf, pulling viewers away from those already well entrenched shows might be hard for the new network. And, holding up a series with so much going on, so many effects, and 8 series regulars might be too much to bear. B