“I’m turning 18, not going on some epic journey.” – Clary 1.01 Shadowhunters. Beautiful foreshadowing much?
When it comes to book to screen adaptations, Cassandra Clare’s successful teen lit series The Mortal Instruments has endured the works. From graphic novels to a movie, based on the first novel released in 2013, Clare’s books seem to struggle when it faces a conversion to visual mediums. The movie, starring Lily Collins (Love, Rosie) and Jaime Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), fell flat despite the hype that had surrounded it by fans. It didn’t help that production issues led to the canning of the planned sequel. So when Constantin Film decided to produce a television adaptation of the series, it was obvious scepticism was going to be rampant. However, by rebranding the source material to Shadowhunters and an acquisitions by popular streaming service Netflix, this show has perhaps once and for all finally broken the curse that follows the adaptations of Clare’s series. With a surprisingly diverse cast, long episodes and an amazing soundtrack, it’s granted to say that Shadowhunters’ renewal for a second season in 2017 comes as no surprise.
The series follows Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), an eighteen-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother Jocelyn is kidnapped. The discovery of her mother’s secret past and her own supernatural heritage leads Clary on a journey of self-discovery, which ultimately has her fighting demons and members of the underworld in a race to save her mother from the nefarious Valentine (Alan Van Sprang). Alongside her naive human best friend Simon (Alberto Rosende), Clary takes the viewers on a journey into a world hidden within our own, with warlocks, werewolves, vampires and of course the demons that Clary’s own race, shadowhunters, are tasked to hunt. Set in New York, the urban landscape adds an almost modern steampunk vibe to the supernatural series.
Clary’s love interest, Jace (Dominic Sherwood), and Simon’s unrequited feelings for her create the type of love triangle storyline that The CW made so popular in the last decade and acts as a drawcard for new -especially young- viewers. Simon represents Clary’s comfortable human life, but Jace represents something exciting and new for Clary, and their chemistry is undeniable. The relationship Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia), Jace’s adopted sister, has with Simon shows how complicated the meeting of different supernatural species can be, as well as the code that shadowhunters are expected to uphold when defending the human race.
Clary can be somewhat frustrating as a protagonist and falls into the damsel-in-distress trap a little too often to be endearing. Yet this is more due to the original source material than perhaps the screenwriters’ intentions. Also, the love triangle itself is somewhat dragging, a factor fans tend to overlook among discussions on social media platforms.
However, it is Isabelle’s brother Alec (Matthew Daddario) who steals the spotlight throughout the season as he struggles with his own unrequited feelings for Jace and comes to terms with his own sexuality, a development explored through his unfolding feelings for warlock Magnus (Harry Shum Jr.) This storyline is vastly important for the highly unrepresented LGBT community in television, and the series explores different themes skillfully, dealing simultaneously with Alec’s journey as a shadowhunter and exploring his parents’ disapproval of his relationship. This storyline overshadows the somewhat cliché nature of Clary and Jace’s love, managing to serve up a breath of fresh air, with both Daddario and Shum shinning as their respective characters.
The minor cast also flourish as the arrangement of vampires and werewolf cops the young crew stumble upon during their mission. Valentine’s relationship with Jocelyn is fascinating, and the efforts the latter goes to in order to stop Valentine’s plans from succeeding nicely depict her as a force to be reckoned with. Valentine serves as a somewhat traditional antagonist, but he does well, dropping several bombshells that non-readers will not see coming. The villain serves for entertaining viewing, for both those who know what twists are coming and those who do not.
Overall, Shadowhunters is a show that wouldn’t look out of place alongside teen CW outings such as The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf, and it has the potential to become a popular show if it embraces the less cliché aspects of the plot and gives more background characters more screen time. The show does well foreshadowing future plot devices, has appropriately quick-paced dialogue, and benefits from the diversity of the cast and the depiction of different sexualities. Now, if the marketing team promotes this further, it could very well become cult classic television.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10