Shadowhunters Review – A Poor Adaptation With Some Compelling Characters


Shadowhunters is a supernatural drama that is based on the Mortal Instruments book series by Cassandra Clare. This is the second adaptation, with the first being a movie called The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, that was quite unsuccessful. 

I am not sure if Shadowhunters is an accurate portrayal of the books, as I haven’t read them myself, but it definitely has that young adult vibe to it. I do find that the story and world building is interesting, but it features a lot of teenager angst, which feels odd, considering most of the characters are adults, apart from the two main characters. 

What I found most disconcerting is the two main characters of the show, Jace and Clary, which are unfortunately are my least favourite of the show. I am not one to shy away from non-action scenes, but even I grew tired of the emo filled scenes with ballads playing over them. And there are a lot of ballads in this show, usually multiple songs each episode.

Shadowhunters follows Clary Fairchild, who finds out on her eighteenth birthday that she is not who she thinks she is, but rather comes from a long line of Shadowhunters, human-angel hybrids who hunt down demons. After her mother is kidnapped, Clary must team up with three Shadowhunters: Jace, Alec and Isabelle and her best friend Simon on a quest to find her mother and discover the truth about her past.

Now Shadowhunters has been cancelled after its third season, but thankfully its network, Freeform, ordered two extra episodes to help conclude the storyline.

I find that the first season is probably the most cohesive of Shadowhunters, as later on when more fantasy races and other recurring characters are introduced, it all becomes a bit all over the place. All the different story threads make it hard to care about any of the drama that is happening, due to an overabundance of storylines. This is something that seems to plague all book to fantasy adaptations once they are in the swing of things, for example True Blood’s later seasons. With more fantasy races, the core story becomes diluted, and it is hard to keep your focus on anything. 

Although there are a lot of likeable characters in Shadowhunters, the acting is a bit hit-and-miss throughout. There are some actors that do a fairly good job at playing their characters, but for others, such as Jace, played by Dominic Sherwood, it seems their main acting technique is constantly pouting. For a teen series, this isn’t exactly surprising, but it does become a bit much. I am not sure if this was a director choice, or just poor casting, but it did make me wish that some of the characters had been killed off or written out. Though I will say that the dialogue is pretty painful at times, so I will blame the writers for that. Just because a show is based on a YA book, does not mean that it has to be trite. But perhaps I am not their target audience, being older than the target demographic. One thing can be said, is they definitely don’t shy away from the YA vibe at all, but lean into it hard.

You can see the YA vibe most strongly in the many love triangles that happen throughout Shadowhunters. It sometimes seems that every episode has new drama amongst the many relationships all the main characters have. In fact, they also have a very controversial relationship dynamic that ends up keeping some characters apart. Though it stops the couple from being together, it does not seem to have the same ramifications as shown in other popular entertainment. For some people, this will be a turn off. And I have to say, it did personally weird me out a lot as it happens a bit too frequently for my tastes. If you are curious, you can look at my trigger warnings and can probably guess what I am referring to.

For a supernatural show, the effects can be a bit dicey at times, with the first season definitely showing their lack of budget. At times, the daggers and knives they use, you can clearly see the blunt and wide edge, taking away some of the danger and pulling you out of the action. 

Having said this, they do not shy away from showing blood and violence, and it can get pretty dark in its character arcs. Most particularly with the side characters, such as Isabelle, Simon, Alec and Raphael. With those characters, they tackle betrayal, addiction, PTSD, torture and many other things that add a deeper richness that is not felt with the main characters. Nevertheless, as I stated before, even though there is more focus during these character development stages, it is soon pushed aside for the next crisis.

Speaking off pushing stuff to the side, even with a noticeable increase in budget in the second season, they still do shy away from showing transformations and a lot of the characters are in humanoid form most of the time. The only exception to this is the demons, but sometimes their special effects are lacking, with their black charred skin revealed as poor bodysuits that you can see quite clearly, if you look too closely. But for the most part, the CGI effects are passable and will not detract too much from your enjoyment of Shadowhunters.

Regardless of some of Shadowhunters’ better points, I was not able to get over the massive amounts of cringe I felt whilst watching this. I am all for shows with emotions, but it becomes overwhelming and unpleasant in a lot of these scenes. This is particularly frustrating when the action is happening, and they all stop to have a discussion about their love for one another. It breaks up any tension those dramatic scenes would have, and they made this error even in the finale, making it more anti-climatic than it clearly was meant to be.

Shadowhunters is a pretty shallow fantasy show, that does little to draw you into the characters or the storyline. I could hardly call this a guilty pleasure, as the series progresses, the pleasure was utterly lost.

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