Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments First Impressions
“Isabelle left you these.” “You’re kidding right?” “She’s very comfortable with her body.”
Shadowhunters is a new television series airing on Freeform, the channel formerly known as ABC Family, and it is based on a series of young-adult novels called The Mortal Instruments that had previously been adapted into a film called City of Bones. That was the entirety of my knowledge going into this pilot, and, if you don’t mind a slight bit of hyperbole, it was probably the majority of my knowledge coming out of it as well. The film adaptation was covered by this site as part of its Let’s Watch series a while back, but I wasn’t amongst the individuals who viewed it. Birdy, however, has assured me that it was quite nonsensical, so it is possible that viewing it wouldn’t have aided my understanding… The point is that the first episode of this show, called The Mortal Cup, comes off as being simultaneously a peculiar mix of bizarre and boring at the same time.
The narrative is, strictly speaking, really simple. Or at least I think it is. Our lead is Katherine McNamara as Clary Frey. She has just turned 18, and it has been hidden from her throughout her life that she is some kind of magical entity. Her mother apparently stole some powerful magical McGuffin from an evil bastard named Valentine 18 years ago, and has been posing as a non-magical person ever since. Valentine is probably Clary’s father or something, but that isn’t touched upon in this episode. After her house gets attacked and her mother captured/killed (It isn’t particularly clear which) she encounters some leather-clad young-adult magical hunters called Shadowhunters, one of whom promises to help find her mother. As I stated before, from a narrative standpoint that isn’t actually all that complex. If anything it feels a little derivative. I was even joking earlier that, had the elves in Eragon worn leather, the story would actually be humorously familiar, but Shadowhunters has the annoying habit of littering every conversation with an obnoxious amount of terminology. Every step of the way the pilot throws the names of factions, characters, or objects at the viewer, but offers little or no consideration for the audience’s ability to understand or keep track of who or what those terms refer to. From a narrative standpoint, this can be used to develop a sense of mystery and anticipation, but having this kind of dialogue permeate the entirety of the first episode is likely to cause most viewers to have checked out by the midway point.
From a character standpoint there really isn’t much worth mentioning. Clary exhibits very little agency throughout the first episode, and her only defining character trait is that she is artsy. Her normal human friends are also bland as hell, with the guy who clearly has a crush on her being so dense that he’s almost insufferable. The leather clad Scooby-gang that Clary encounters is essentially more of the same… except with leather so that you know they’re badass. There is a chick, a guy who’s disagreeable, and a blonde guy who is clearly the leader and love interest. I don’t like being dismissive of characters right off the back, but there honestly isn’t a single character that showed up in the first episode that I would go so far as to say I liked or was intrigued by. The female characters of this show also have a habit of dressing in a way that… let’s just say that you won’t forget that The Mortal Cup was directed by McG, the same individual who directed the Charlie’s Angels films. Normally I would criticize fanservice for distracting from the plot, but, given the fact that the plot is a clustered mess, I almost feel obligated to give it a pass.
Before I wrap up, a few Notes and Nitpicks:
- To McG’s credit, he has served as executive producer for some quality shows including Supernatural and Chuck… but, on the other hand, he directed This Means War.
- The McGuffin that the villains are after is the Mortal Cup, hence the title of the pilot. There isn’t any indication of what it is or what it does. It’s probably the Holy Grail or something, but I don’t actually care.
- People were cast in this show. They haven’t really done much of note, and I don’t care enough to list it here.
- I do want to stress that I don’t feel the actors are necessarily to blame for this being an uninteresting first episode. Between a script that is doing them no favors and a director with a very questionable track record, putting that on their shoulders would be presumptuous.
- I swear this entire production has the odd feeling of some kind of reject from the CW.
With a narrative that is far more complicated than it needs to be, and characters that can be split into the categories of “bland” or “bland but titilizing,” Shadowhunter: The Mortal Instruments limps out of the gate with an episode that barely functions. I hesitate to say that it is outright bad, since its biggest flaws are simply being convoluted and uninteresting. I didn’t actually particularly dislike the first episode, but I’d be lying if I said I got anything out of watching it.