ABC Family’s Freeform’s SHADOWHUNTERS premieres this week. It is based on The Mortal Instruments novels by Cassandra Clare, and ignores the 2013 film based on the first installment of the series entirely, wisely starting fresh, since so few saw that movie anyway. But what is it exactly?
Well, it’s a mystery action-adventure steeped in a world of demon hunters and warlocks. One girl, Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara, Happyland), was kept sheltered from her destiny by her mother, Jocelyn (Maxim Roy, ReGenesis). Because of this, or maybe not, she now seems to be a special bridge between the world of mundanes (regular humans) and those that protect them from the forces of darkness. Which is needed now, for some reason, even though things have gone along centuries without one in that role. (Yes, yes, I get that the artifact everyone is searching for is why things have changed. Just seems arbitrary.)
There are saviors who go around, invisibly slaying the creatures that would do us poor, defenseless mortals harm. Most notably is Jace Wayland (Dominic Sherwood, The Cut), who hunts with sibling pair Alec (Matthew Daddario, Delivery Man) and Isabelle Lightwood (Emeraude Toubia, Tattooed Love), and whom finds Clary in her hour of need. Plus, Jace is easy on Clary’s eyes, so how can she resist someone with good looks and nobility?
If this sounds like the makings of a young adult novel, with the same style of a Twilight or an Insurgent, that’s because it is. The Mortal Instruments is a book series for that age group, and the television adaptation fully embraces its format. Which is right in line with the target audience of Freeform (well, the younger end of the stated demographic), and will likely appeal to a lot of its existing viewers. While it is a more epic tale, and likely has a much bigger special effects budget than most of its peers on the network, it should fit in fine.
The problem is for those of us who aren’t all about the cheesy romance and coming-of-age at the same time as becoming a hero stuff. There is absolutely a market for this, so I’m not knocking SHADOWHUNTERS for being what it is. I’m just saying the appeal is limited, as most adults will see this and roll their eyes at the melodrama existing between the characters. It’s more fantasy-style love than anything real or authentic.
SHADOWHUNTERS does have quite a broad world to explore, which is fitting for such a journey tale. We have the mentor, Luke (Isaiah Mustafa, Horrible Bosses), the best friend, Simon (Alberto Rosende, The Swing of Things), and a High Warlock (Harry Shum Jr., Glee), among others, to pull Clary in divergent directions. This means the plot isn’t likely to grow boring or stale anytime soon.
Yet, there’s nothing of real quality to make SHADOWHUNTERS stretch its genre, either. The cast is serviceable, but no one stands out as being particularly impressive. Some of the monsters look a little goofy because small screen budgets will always lag well behind feature films. The main thrust is relatively standard fare, with no big surprises present, at least not in the first hour.
My verdict isn’t that SHADOWHUNTERS is bad. I even occasionally enjoy a little bit from this genre. But a little bit goes a long way, and since this one has not done anything notable to distinguish itself from the pack or make it rise above the standard mold, I can’t really recommend it to anyone outside of its target demographic. For those this was made for, though, I think it’s a pretty decent example, compared to its peers, and you’re likely to enjoy it quite a bit.
SHADOWHUNTERS premieres Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Freeform.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.