Hit or Sh**: Freeform’s SHADOWHUNTERS
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
When 2013’s THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES floundered, it seemed Cassandra Clare’s book series’ quest to become a successful film franchise had failed. Yet, the series’ appeal to the teen fantasy bunch is obvious: magic, monsters, warlocks, shapeshifters, angels, demons, secret societies, sexual tension, family drama, teen angst, meaningful tattoos, and a quirky-but-not-too-quirky main character readers can project themselves onto. It stands to reason that there has to be a way for the series to succeed beyond the page. So here we are: Freeform (née ABC Family) has given Clare’s series a second chance ‒ this time on cable television.
“I got it! Her HAIR wasn’t RED enough!” – Some studio guy, probably
Normal, everyday, artsy Brooklyn teenager Clary Fray’s life is turned upside down on her 18th birthday when all hell breaks loose (literally?). She begins encountering shapeshifters, demons, and angels that only she can see because she is the Chosen One. You see, she is a descendant of a long line of “Shadowhunters”: magic humans with angelic blood who are born to protect our world from demons and other spooky shit. In a well-meaning attempt to shield her daughter from danger, Clary’s mother Jocelyn had a warlock wipe her memory as a child, only for it to be reawakened when Clary reaches the age of eighteen.
Responsibilities of legal adulthood include taxes and demon-slaying
Many details and plot points in SHADOWHUNTERS sound eerily familiar ‒ and there’s a reason for that. A long time ago on a website far, far away called Fanfiction.net, the story that would become THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series was born. What began as HARRY POTTER fanfiction became a new series ‒ but not necessarily an original one. Even the basics of how the Shadowhunters’ powers work sound recognizable; they access their magic with crystal-tipped wands. Their swords aren’t lightsabers because they’re shaped funny and made of crystal. Clary isn’t Buffy because she’s hunting demons, not vampires. It’s not SUPERNATURAL because it stars a teenage girl instead of two grown brothers.
Clare tries to create uniqueness with exotic (or made-up?) names like Clary and Jace and silly concepts like writing spell runes on skin, but ultimately fails at convincing us that what she’s come up with is an Original Idea. Maybe all this criticism is caused by Teens Saving the World fatigue… Or maybe SHADOWHUNTERS is really as derivative and unoriginal as it seems.
No one can accuse SHADOWHUNTERS of being subtle. Every moment has the writers whacking audiences over the head with symbolism, foreshadowing, and/or sexual tension. For example, there’s a scene where Clary, her woefully friend-zoned best friend Simon, and her new sexy Shadowhunter friend Jace are catching up on the sitch. In reference to Jace, Simon incredulously delivers the line of the episode: “Clary, who is this? Your meth dealer?” In this moment, Clary, Simon, and Jace are literally standing in a triangle with Clary in the middle. The only way their impending love triangle could be more obvious would be if the characters wrote sexual tension runes on their bodies with their crystal wands.
“Stick me with your crystal wand, Clary – wait, what?”
To the show’s credit, there’s a lot of exposition to cover in a short amount of time and it does a decent job of getting through all the necessary information while keeping a good pace. By the end of the episode, we know all about the world of the Shadowhunters; their mission, their enemies, all that jazz. However, the amount of stuff happening is more overwhelming than exciting and engrossing. To be fair, this is a common issue with pilots, especially if there’s this much backstory to deal with. Future episodes have a lot of potential to focus more on the characters and current plotlines, which will make for better television.
The show seems to have all the flaws of the film: too derivative, too much going on, too in-your-face. But that’s not to say it won’t be a success. THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS learned the lesson that there’s too much happening for it to be jammed into a two hour movie. But, serialized television is a much better and more sustainable format.
“Love me, damn it”
With the right audience of angsty teen fantasy fans, which are admittedly numerous, this show could be the success Cassandra Clare wants her series to be. Considering the young audience they have for shows such as PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, ABC Family (sorry, FREEFORM) is the right network for the job. But unless you’re a mopey suburban teen looking for an outlet so you don’t take up smoking weed under the bleachers, as Clary says when she meets the Shadowhunters, “I’m not interested in your supernatural fight club.”
SHADOWHUNTERS airs on Tuesdays on Freeform