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Shadowhunters: Completely unwatchable trash

I’m not surprised that Shadowhunters, the second screen incarnation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, is utter shit. But I had hoped that after 2013’s film adaptation was such a commercial and critical failure, the creative team behind the series might try a little harder. Amazingly, watching the pilot episode made me remember the film almost fondly – it wasn’t so bad after all, it looks positively awards-worthy by comparison.

shadowhunters posterPlease believe me when I say that no one should ever waste their time watching this show. The acting is atrocious, production values so low they made me cringe (costumes, makeup, sets, and special effects), and the writing is worse than what you might find in a 13 year old’s play they wrote about their day to day dramas to perform in front of their Drama class. Shadowhunters is the worst TV I’ve seen in a long time.

I admit that I’ve never read the source material. Back in high school, I remember reading Cassandra Clare’s Harry Potter fanfiction, aka unoriginal trashy teen-porn for the emo crowd (I loved it as a guilty pleasure, but I was 15, so cut me some slack). Reading the premise/synopsis of The Mortal Instruments series has me scratching my head as to why it’s so damn popular. I know from first-hand experience that Clare’s prose is far from crash-hot, the plotting absurd, and the characters entirely uni-dimensional. And yet, when I was at the Hay Literary Festival in 2014 there was an enormous queue for her signature while the actual literary giants twiddled their thumbs nearby. All this television adaptation proves to me is that there is no reason anyone should enjoy this series – as books, a film, or a TV series. All incarnations of The Mortal Instruments should be burned or buried, never to be seen again.

For the uninitiated, the premise of the series is basically ‘generic paranormal teen drama with angst, romance, and previously undiscovered powers’:

Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) has long been kept in the dark about a dark family secret. On the night her mother is kidnapped, Clary discovers she has powerful abilities. She is taken in by the Shadowhunters who protect humanity against demons. Jace (Dominic Sherwood), Alec (Matthew Daddario), and Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia) teach Clary about her true nature and help her find her mother who has been taken by the evil ‘Circle’. Meanwhile, in her ‘mundane’ life, Clary’s best friend Simon (Alberto Rosende) is hopelessly in love with the oblivious Clary and wants to do all he can to keep her safe. But who can Clary really trust? And who is the mysterious Valentine? What is the Mortal Cup? AND WHO THE F*CK CARES?!

At no point do I care about any of this. The show sets up a lot of potential story threads with excessive info dumps while still leaving plenty of open-ended questions. I’m sure this is meant to intrigue the audience, but I’m afraid I just didn’t care. And presumably most of the audience tuning in to this show will already be fans of the books and/or film, so I would have thought this could give the writers more leeway to establish worldbuilding without slapping us in the face with expositional dialogue. It isn’t even a show where the bad guys make it fun – everyone is just as awful as each other.

shadowhunters-pouty faceBad boy Jace of the Shadowhunters is your basic 12 year old’s idea of what a hot guy looks like – lots of leather, eye makeup, an insufferable pout, and 90’s blonde hair that looks to be translated from Jesse McCartney’s head. Jace is rude and disrespectful, but this is what young girls want, right? And of course this is the kind of thing we should encourage! This portrayal is as infuriating as it is patronizing. Bad boy love interests can work, especially in paranormal stories – Spike in Buffy! – but Jace is given no personality past the predictable cliché. Maybe you think I’m being harsh on his character off the basis of just one episode, but it is really, really bad. I wanted to punch him in his stupid pouty mouth.

There is not a single actor, character, or idea in this series to make it remotely watchable. The acting is worse than a daytime soap – I would rather sit through a marathon of Passions than this shit. Meanwhile, the CG is poor even for TV standards and it just made my eyes hurt. All the ideas are regurgitations of stereotypical genre tropes with nothing new to say. I cannot find a single redeeming feature about this series.


Verdict: Watch only if you hate yourself.

If you are a masochist, Shadowhunters is available on Netflix with new episodes added weekly.

About Megan Leigh

Writer and editor of Pop Verse. Co-host of Breaking the Glass Slipper. My special interests include publishing, creative writing, and geekery.


  1. nice.review 🙂 100% truth.. it’s really a shame that they didn’t put more effort into the show. probably gets canceled before reaching the end of s01.

  2. I agree the movie and the tv show are both terrible. I don’t understand though, how anyone can review books they did not read. Very lazy! If you’re going to write such a scathing review, at least take the time to read the books.

    • The article is a review of the tv show as a stand-alone entity.

      • If the article is a review of the tv show, why did you bring in Cassandra Clare’s writing from when she was a Harry Potter fan-fiction writer, declaring: ‘I know from first-hand experience that Clare’s prose is far from crash-hot, the plotting absurd, and the characters entirely uni-dimensional’
        If you’re going to bring Clare’s writing into the equation, you really should read the source material, as a writer’s style can evolve, you know.

  3. The show is complete crap!!!!! I hate it so much! I can’t believe they got a season 2B! We need to get it cancelled before I kill myself

    • well , yeah is pretty crappy , but i think that if they change the writing, directing , and if they give some acting classes to the lead characters it can improve enough , is terrible im kind of hooked with an annoying show . this has never happened to me.

      • I keep watching this awful show too! And this has never happened to me before too! Glad I’m not the only one lol. I tried the 1st episode just to spend time & thought I would continue if I liked it. Well, I didn’t like it and wanted to give it another chance by watching the 2nd episode. But oh God… I hated the actings, the over-info we’re given in fast dialogues, the cheep visual effects (in the year 2017-18) AND the choice of the leading role for Clary -Katherine McNamara! She is getting on my nerves with her non-existing mimics/gestures and when she tries to make mimics/gestures, she becomes more unwatchable. I thought I would get used to watch even the worst choice of leaing role after getting used to watch Anna Paquin as Sookie in the True Blood series; but Katherine proved me wrong! Casting agencies can be negatively surprising sometimes. Anyway I think the reason I keep watching the show is my own obsession to finish what I’ve started. There isn’t any other explanation.

  4. I love how you remember her fanfic as a guilty pleasure – if you were 15 and a potter fan AND you still remember it, you were basically fapping to it and you know it. The show is still trite and beyond awful though. Not quite leather pants draco.

  5. Never thought the movie was so bad in the first place but now compared to this its a masterpiece

  6. I agree with you, but I think that the premise is pretty interesting, and, being positive, they can still change what has failed till now :
    _the writing
    _the directing
    _the acting (pls a 101 on acting to the lead character , how somebody that has acted in so many movies can have this level of acting!?)

    to be honest im kind of hooked even tho i knd of suffer through it, I still want to know more about luke the werewolf and simon the vampire (I think that the actor tha is luke is one of the best in the show), the lead makes me cringe but i think that is till reversible.

    it remind me of teen wolf, it was awful at first and then it got good (to be bad again in the last seasons)

    is pretty sad when a show with such potential is wasted, oh well

    sorry for my english

  7. Although I agree somewhat it has gotten better. Katherine ruined it for me. But since I just loved the movie I need this. I need it to play out no matter what. So I sucked it up and season 2 has been way better.

  8. Honestly the second season was so much better. Tbh I think it’s easier to watch the show if you’ve read the books since it stacks up. (Also the portals are way less crappy and kat has done a better job.)

    • I’ve read the books and the show still sucks. 9/10 of everything that happened in the show didn’t even happen in the books. If one reads the books then watches the show, they’ll be expecting stuff to happen and then get disappointed when something else(usually something stupid) happens.

  9. I am very disappointed in this series. The acting is horrible. No chemistry, no cohesive flow. The actress playing Clary is horrible. Maybe I expect too much but it’s garbage.

  10. true, this show is bad as hell, I just disagree a little about the bad acting, it feel more like the actors are struggling trying to make something with the cheesy and awful writing they are given.

  11. The Goblin of Waters

    Clary’s acting was the only thing that I didn’t like.

    The idea of the show is excellent. But, it is overshadowed with a teen’s woe-is-me outlook on life!

    For example, they will talk about some really intense poop that is going on. When suddenly, she lays her teen problems on everyone.

    It just really waters down the show.

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