The best part of Freeform’s new adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” series, called “Shadowhunters,” is the song used to introduce the setting in the first minute: “Monsters” by Ruelle. It captures the gritty seductive elements of the club scene we’re watching and the supernatural elements of the people in it.
But that’s the only good thing that can be said for the pilot, “The Mortal Cup.”
“Shadowhunters” is the second attempt to transmute this best-selling YA series to screen; the film adaptation starring Lily Collins (“Mirror Mirror”) did not fare well, and this show is destined to suffer the same fate. It follows Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara, “Girl vs. Monster) on her 18th birthday as she gets into the Brooklyn Academy of Art, celebrates with her best friend Simon (Alberto Rosende, “Blue Bloods”) who is obviously infatuated with her, accepts an “ancient” family heirloom from her mother (do people still unironically use the word “ancient” to describe family heirlooms?) and avoids an important mother-daughter talk. She then goes to a club, Pandemonium, to see Simon’s band play. At the club, she collides with a smirky blonde guy whose smile slips off his face when she confronts him.
“You can see me?” Smirky Blonde Guy asks her, shocked. She’s bemused by his question, though a shot from Simon’s point of view suggests that Clary is talking to thin air. Cue the supernatural musical accompaniment. After a few more action scenes including a disappearing mother and a near-death-experience from a demon, Smirky Blonde Guy, Jace, (Dominic Sherwood, “Vampire Academy”) tells Clary that “all the legends” — demons, vampires, warlocks — are true.
Meanwhile the villain, Valentine (Alan Van Sprang, “Reign”) is hiding out in Chernobyl. Regardless of whether that’s in the books, this setting feels unnecessary, jerky and inauthentic at best. This inauthenticity is also found in the writing. The expositional dialogue in “Shadowhunters” is more than just boring — it feels like a parody of itself. And I wish I could say that the actors do the best with what they’ve been given, but they don’t. None of them seem to actually be speaking to one another, even when they’re making direct eye contact. And just when you think it can’t get any more cringe-worthy, action scenes jerkily transition into slow-motion.
There are also small but grating inconsistencies. After Jace saves Clary, she walks around without pants for a couple minutes (unnecessary at best) and is then given new clothes that belong to Jace’s sister, who is “comfortable with her body.” Clary’s body language changes instantly with the more revealing outfits, which would be fine if it weren’t completely out of character.
The content that Freeform — previously known as ABC Family — produces is almost always hit or miss, in terms of quality. “The Fosters” was a hit; “Pretty Little Liars” was a miss (despite its wild popularity among the intended audience). But it’s hard to believe that “Shadowhunters” was launched with the enthusiastic approval of everyone involved. It’s a complete miss.
“Shadowhunters” takes itself too seriously from the get-go, making for a disappointing viewing experience for those who wanted a real adaptation of the story — and for those who were just bored enough to sit through the whole thing.