Free Form (formerly known as ABC Family) christens their new name with a brand-new show. Based on the worldwide-literary juggernaut that is Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instrument series, Shadowhunters has been promised as the adaptation that fans should have gotten with 2013’s City Of Bones (a movie so bad even Clare distanced herself from it: www.cassandraclare.com/frequently-asked-questions/aboutthemovie/). For better or for worse, tonight’s premiere definitely delivered a new take.
Let’s start with the bad stuff. As with any adaptation, there are going to be differences. Fans of the books will spot the age changes for Maureen and Dot right off, as well as a fairly substantial character departure for Jocelyn. Gone are the stalker preteen (although the Simon obsession remains), the elderly downstairs neighbor (although the paranormal obsession remains), and the mother who would rather subject her daughter to regular memory wipes at the hands of a warlock than tell her the truth of their world (although at least one memory wipe remains). Instead, viewers are introduced to an age-appropriate Maureen, a younger yet just as batty Dot, and a Jocelyn who gives protagonist Clary a stele on her 18th birthday along with several valiant attempts at a full explanation.
The show also opens with a very exposition-heavy first act. Relationships, memories, and facts are hurled at viewers, and only occasionally in a coherent manner. Those who come in without having read the books are going to have to run to catch up with everyone else. It may have been intentional- an attempt on the part of the writers to make the viewer feel as unsettled as Clary as fantasy suddenly comes to life around her- but the writing is a bit clunky and the delivery feels forced more often than not. Not a good way to hook fans still hurting after
However, not all is lost. A not-so-subtle nod to fans of the books in the form of Maureen and Simon singing “Forever Young” is perfectly timed at the beginning of the second act, and marks a turning point in the episode. With the exposition out of the way, the plot picks up the pace and the characters finally have room to really connect with one another. Alberto Rosende shines as Simon Lewis, the lovelorn best friend with a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and plays off of Dominic Sherwood’s Jace Wayland with an ease that can only bode well for the boys’ future on-screen interactions.
Harry Shum Jr, who is best recognizable as Mark Chang in Fox’s Glee, also explodes on the scene as the High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane. Viewers only get a few glimpses of Magnus in episode 1, but Shum steals every scene with a snap of his fingers. Fans of the books know what there is to look forward to here, as long as the writers hold to the book plotlines.
Overall, the adaptation from book to TV show seems to be handled well. The differences are a bit jarring at first (Valentine holed up in Chernobyl, anyone?), but once the episode finds its footing, it’s a solid first offering. Free Form has already made the full second episode available on their app (which is free on the App Store and Google Play) ahead of next Tuesday’s premiere. This is a marketing tactic that worked well for Lifetime’s summer breakout hit, UnREAL, which quickly garnered a second season, so perhaps the same luck will hold for Shadowhunters. One can only hope.
Final verdict: slow to start, but you’ll be glad you stuck it out when the action kicks in.