Cassandra Clare’s YA book series begat the 2013 film The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones—a box-office disappointment that didn’t capture why so many people loved the books. Round two: TV adaptation Shadowhunters, which is actually way better suited to the dark fantasy material.
Episodes one and two of Shadowhunters are available online, and the series debuted on Freeform last night. Spoilers if you haven’t caught up yet!
First, a sidenote on Freeform: If you’ve never heard of it, it’s the jazzed-up new identity of ABC Family. And if there’s any doubt about the direction the network is going, just know that McG—whose films all look like the slick music videos that launched his career—directed the series’ first two installments.
You need not have read a single page of Clare’s writing, nor have seen the film, to get quickly up to speed on the world of Clary Fray. The first two episodes are jam-packed with exposition, as a gobsmacked Clary learns that she’s not just a New York City art student who’s been raised by a single mom, but also part of a mystical race sworn to protect humans from demons.
Shadowhunters thus offers up yet another spin on the “You are secretly special!” trope that’s so prevalent in YA fantasy; think Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Beatrice Prior, the kid from The Giver, etc. In Clary’s case, it means she gets to be part of a secret group that takes its style cues from goth culture and 1990s fashion (lots of black leather and carefully styled hair—but those rune burns sure do look like tribal tattoos). Fortunately, the petite, flame-haired Clary is just as good-looking as the rest of them, because it would sure be awkward if she had to be the only fugly Shadowhunter. (In this world, humans are called “mundanes,” which is even more insulting than “muggles,” no?)
Into this world of glowing weapons and supernatural creatures with ancient beefs (so far, we’ve also met immortal warlocks, shape-shifting demons, vampires, and a werewolf) Clary plunges, as bewildered as you might imagine. Her mother, Jocelyn, has been kidnapped by a bad guy named Valentine (how bad? His HQ is at freakin’ Chernobyl), and everybody wants to get their hands on a long-missing talisman called the “Mortal Cup.”
Thing is, the events of episode one and two could have been entirely avoided, or at least handled way better, if either of these two things had happened:
1) Clary could have paused her 18th birthday celebration to hear her mother out, because sometimes when your mom says “I need to tell you something important,” it’s a life-or-death situation instead of Mom warning you not to text and drive.
2) Jocelyn could have trusted her daughter to fill her in way earlier than, like, the evening of the day she turned 18 and became vulnerable to all this bad magic. Instead, Clary’s been getting Men in Black-style memory wipes since she was 10 years old. “I wish my mom had trusted me enough to tell me abut all this,” she mutters—and we have to agree, especially after the hunkiest Shadowhunter of them all, Jace, tells her “In the shadow world, no planning or training will get you killed.”
Those frustrations aside, which are typical of every fantasy epic, this silly show is actually entertaining. Especially if you don’t take it too seriously. Shadowhunters may not outwardly appear to be a comedy, but lines like “Literally, my brain is about to explode!”—as gasped by Clary as she learns all the truths outlined above—are surely a wink to the audience.
See for yourself: