So, ABC Family has been renamed Freeform, and with that comes a new slate of programming aimed at the 14-34 year old viewer. The press release states that this demographic is termed “Becomers” since they are embarking on “the epic adventure of becoming an adult”, and the programming on this newly relaunched network will be focusing on those who are on the brink of experiencing “all of life’s firsts” and all the adventure and self-discovery that represents.
Last year, the network brought us Stitchers, which was a delight in every sense of the word. This year’s new series is Shadowhunters, the television adaptation of “The Mortal Instruments” series of young adult novels by Cassandra Clare.
Full disclosure: I’ve never read the books, and I actually gave Shadowhunters 7 episodes instead of the typical 5, just to extended the benefit of the doubt as far as possible. Even with the extra 2 episodes, I still didn’t find that bit of magic, that I was looking for — a real story hook and compelling characters.
Also, here there may be spoilers.
The series showed promise, based on the extended teaser released back in October, but the first episode “The Mortal Cup” contains so many contradictions and behaviors that are too mysterious to be believed that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on where. Yes, from a story perspective, it’s better to develop a character over time to avoid info dumping and other bad calls, but it’s almost worse if things are left as a mystery too long.
First, the good points. The chemistry and teamwork between the original Shadowhunters — Jace, Alec and Isabelle — works, especially in the early battles against demons, and later when interacting with the warlock Magnus Bane. The dynamic between brother and sister Alec and Isabelle is made even more interesting when their parents and younger brother show up, and the hints at them being from an influential family in danger of losing their status in Shadowhunter society is intriguing. The flamboyant and slightly arrogant Magnus Bane switches to a curiously vulnerable and intriguing character when dealing with his new feelings for Alec, and his character definitely deserves more backstory than we’ve received so far.
The true role and size of the Institute that manages & trains the shadowhunters is still unclear, but so far it appears to be a combination of the worst parts of the aristocracy of a noble court and of a bureaucracy with too many fingers in too many pies, simply because they want to maintain the power structure & hierarchy.
The background of the relationship between Clary’s mother Jocelyn, their friend NYPD Detective Luke Garroway, and the mysterious rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who was previously believed dead until Jocelyn was kidnapped, is slowly filled in, but the real motives of Valentine seem forced. And although some of the background on why Clary wasn’t aware of her heritage until her 18th birthday when the magic protecting her from the shadow world started breaking down is also being revealed, so far it’s still a confused mess.
And now for the not so good, and the pretty bad.
First, there’s no background on the Cup other than it can make more Shadowhunters, which hasn’t happened since the Archangel Raphael first used it to make the first group of hunters. It makes sense why the Institute wants it back, and it makes sense why the big bad Valentine wants it, so he can create a new army of hybrid Shadowhunters loyal to him.
But the Cup apparently can also control demons… which seems to be the reason why the vampires and the werewolves want to find it and use it? That part is still not clear, why it seems every different group of creatures in the shadow world except the warlocks and the Seelie would want the Cup for themselves if the big power it has is only making new Shadowhunters from mundane mortals.
Second, why was Clary so irrationally upset at her mother and Luke for “keeping secrets from her”, when it was her who clearly blew them off on her birthday, multiple times, from the very start. When they both wanted to take her aside and talk to her and she blew 4 different gaskets while paying more attention to her phone than them, and was prepared to go full tantrum unless she could go out with her friends without having to suffer through whatever talk they wanted to have. For pity’s sake, I would rather have had her go full emo with guilt over not listening to her mother before everything happened than having to deal with the completely overwrought recklessness and lack of awareness she’s been displaying ever since.
Third, why did Luke, himself a werewolf, get ill from being bitten by an alpha wolf when he challenged the alpha and fought him for leadership of the pack? Yes, he did it to protect Clary from the alpha, but do all leadership challenges in all werewolf packs end like that? If so, it doesn’t make any sense for anyone to ever challenge to be leader of a pack if they’re going to become deathly ill from being bitten during the fight and the only way they can survive is with the help of a warlock.
Without additional information, that violates so many levels of internal story logic as to shatter any pretense of suspending disbelief, and since Luke’s all better now and leader of the pack, I guess we’re not going to get any of those answers.
I’m not going to go much into Simon and his intolerable behavior and the vampire subplot. The teaser at the end of episode 7 seems to indicate that he’s either finally being turned or being killed… I’d rather they eliminated him because they haven’t spent any time with him or his family or the other after-thought friend Maureen (who wasn’t seen for 5 episodes after the premiere), and when they do reappear on screen, it’s jarring and so far has served up no purpose other than to stir up false friction between him, Jace and Clary, especially when the friction about Clary is better when it’s between Alec and Jace.
Maybe this show is focused towards fans of the books who’ve read them multiple times, and the producers believed that people who weren’t fans of the books wouldn’t bother with the show, but that seems short-sighted. The Harry Potter books managed to open up the world of the books to a massive audience who’d never read them, and Syfy Channel appears to be doing a successful job with bringing viewers to The Magicians who’d never been aware of the those books, so I can’t imagine why Shadowhunters seems to be becoming a deeper and deeper mess with each new episode.
The special effects and production design are pretty good for television, but the other factors are just hurdles too large for me to ignore and keep watching. It’s not a good thing when you can’t bring yourself to root for some of the main characters, and actively want to see a couple of them get killed off to allow the other characters to start taking care of business.
I wanted to get into this show and enjoy it. Instead, now I can’t wait for season 2 of Stitchers.