January 13, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments”


SHADOWHUNTERS: THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS:  Tuesday 9PM on Freeform – If Nothing Else Is On…

Fans of mediocre YA fantasy adventure may remember SHADOWHUNTERS: THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS from its last incarnation, as a 2013 feature film based on Cassandra Claire’s novels.  That was supposed to kick off a franchise, but the movie flopped, and the rightsholders resorted to television, where the new series, created by veteran writer/producer Ed Decter (The Client List, Unforgettable) has become the first offering of the newly re-branded ABCFamily network, now calling itself “Freeform.”

If the Shadowhunters pilot is any indication, the mission of Freeform is to be less earnest and more MTV than MTV’s own series are these days–more, in fact, than MTV’s own recently launched fantasy adventure The Shannara ChroniclesShadowhunters, directed by McG, is all quick cutting and flashy visuals, and it has even bigger budget issues than MTV’s purported epic.  It shares with Shannara, however, the unfortunate trait of being cast with young performers who are prettier than they are commanding as actors.

The basic story is the same as in the movie, not to mention many other similar tales.  On her 18th birthday, Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) learns that she’s–you guessed it–The Chosen One, not a mere “mundane” whose mother Jocelyn (Maxim Roy) runs an antiques shop in Brooklyn, but one of a long line of those able to identify and eliminate the demons among us–blood drinkers, shape-shifters, homicidal beasts and the like.  This discovery pulls her away from her cute but nerdy best buddy Jace (Dominic Sherwood), who has unrequited feelings for her, and toward hunky shadowhunter Simon (Alberto Rosende), whose colleagues include Alec (Matthew Daddario)–who has unrequited feelings for Simon–and Alec’s sister Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia).  There’s a whole lot of mythology unloaded at great speed, involving magic tattoos that we’re admonished are actually runes, glowing light-saber-like swords and daggers, and in particular something called the Mortal Cup, which evil Valentine (Alan van Sprang) is seeking, and which he thinks Clary’s mother has.  Jocelyn, for her part, has put herself in a state of suspended animation before the demons could abduct her, so she’s currently unable to provide such crucial information as who Clary’s birth dad will turn out to be.

As hogwash goes, this is all neither worse nor better than plenty of other YA sagas out there.  The success of a show like Shadowhunters, dwelling as it does in a heavily trodden genre, depends on its execution, and so far there’s not much on view to inspire high hopes.  McNamara, Sherwood, and Rosende do more posing than acting, with McNamara relying on her mane of red hair to convey emotion.  Decter’s pilot script has no flair, and his feel for teen culture is strictly one of a middle-aged writer who had to be told to insert references to Twitter and “hashtag” into his dialogue.  The budget limitations, visible in cut-rate demons and cheap sets, are already painful–a cut from “Brooklyn” to “Chernobyl” (where Valentine has his headquarters) plays as a joke–and likely to get worse once the show moves past its pilot.

Mostly, though, Shadowhunters is drearily familiar.  There are so many YA fantasies around these days, on big screen and small, that a new venture needs to have something special if it’s going to cut through the clutter.  Shadowhunters doesn’t feel Chosen at all–it’s just more of the same.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."