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.
Please 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.
Bad 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.