"Shadowhunters," based on Cassandra Clare's young adult novel series "The Mortal Instruments," follows the story of Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) who discovers on her eighteenth birthday that she is part of a long line of supernatural beings who hunt demons. Like other fantasy stories before it, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and more recently, "The Magicians" on Syfy, "Shadowhunters" is a coming of age tale where demons are stand-ins for the challenges and responsibilities of becoming an adult. It's a premise that works when it doesn't take itself too seriously. Unfortunately for "Shadowhunters," Clary and her new crew are not much fun.
There are a few good one-liners Clary, her nerdy best friend Simon, played by Alberto Rosende (who, surprise, is secretly in love with her) and the band of very pretty supernaturals: Jace (Dominic Sherwood), Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia), are given to say. But writers can only do so much. It doesn't matter how hilarious your line about a "supernatural flight club" sounded when you wrote it if McNamara delivers it with next to no zing or Sherwood gives every piece of dialogue he has the same flat tone. That's not to say the script doesn't have other problems. Most of Clary's lines are different versions of "We have to save my mom!"
Here's the background: When Clary came of age, the bad guys were somehow alerted, chaos ensued and mom Jocelyn (Maxim Roy) took a sleeping potion so she wouldn't be forced to reveal where she hid "the mortal cup". The rogue shadowhunters are part of something called the circle. Their leader Valentine (Alan Van Sprang) used to be good but now…isn't.
Warlocks hang out in cool dance clubs and their leader, Magnus Bane, (Harry Shum Jr., "Glee") knows how to rock eye make-up. Jocelyn and Valentine have a past. Her policeman boyfriend Luke (Isaiah Mustafa) has secrets. By episode two, vampires make an appearance and Clary takes a meeting with pale men wearing monk robes who have their eyes and mouths stitched closed. Oh, and all shadowhunters have rune tattoos that are the source of their powers. Why shadows are hunting humans is unclear. Why we should care about any of this--equally confusing.
It's a silly plot. The cringe worthy special effects makes it worse. Both are excellent reasons why the series needs to lighten up. Shum seems to be the only one having fun with his campy character but he's not on screen enough to make a dent in the overly wrought "we need to save my mom!" premise.
Another reason for this show to laugh at itself is that the type of fantasy story it belongs to practically demands it. One of the themes of narratives where young adults find out they aren't ordinary is that they think their lives before were so boring, Clary being one of these. To recap, she has perfectly blown-out hair, lives in a cool apartment in New York City and has just been accepted to art school--super dull, am I right? Then beautiful people with cool body art and magic powers tell her she is one of them. Maybe she'll take a minute to enjoy it or at least hit the club with the well-groomed warlock.
"Shadowhunters" is on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EDT on Freeform (formerly ABC Family).