‘Shadowhunters’ Pilot Review: The Potential Is There, But It Falls Flat
This is an advance review for the Shadowhunters pilot (premiering Jan. 12 on Freeform). While there are no major spoilers, there are minor spoilers regarding the overall plot of the first episode.
When it comes to screen adaptations of popular book series the biggest criticism tends to be a lack of faithfulness to the source material. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not following the book page for page. As far as I’m concerned faithfulness to the source material equates to staying true to the essence of the story; the reason why fans fell in love with the story in the first place.
For me that’s always been my biggest concern about Shadowhunters. I don’t mind changes – in fact, I expect and even encourage them – so long as the soul of the story and the characters remains in tact. But with the reveal of the changes coming to the show – both subtle and major – I was worried about the show trailing too off course from the books and becoming something else entirely.
If that’s to be the case in the future of the series, the pilot was pretty faithful in regards to following key events in the story while adding new pieces to the story. It’s like the cast has been preaching: they get from point A to point B but in their own way. But I’ll admit it’s puzzling to watch how the world has been tweaked to fit with the year 2016, including the social media craze and greater technological advances. The Shadowhunters culture is built upon the lack of technology and that’s important in the books, which begs the question, why are there computers and iPods in the Institute? Doesn’t that make their magic useless?
The Shadowhunters pilot follows the beginning of City of Bones as it’s the night of Clary’s 18th birthday, one of the acceptable differences from the book, and her fated introduction to the Shadow World complete with key elements from the book that fans will recognize. We glimpse the series’ integral characters, from Shadowhunters to humans to Downworlders, as the groundwork is laid for the series. Judging from the pilot alone, Shadowhunters looks to be pulling some storylines from the books and expanding upon them with their own vision, which won’t be entirely embraced by devoted book fans. But the potential is there.
Shadowhunters has some key elements from City of Bones: the mythology, the famous locations, recognizable scenes, and the characters. But where it struggles is the execution of it all. The pacing was rushed, there was too much mythology glossed over, the female characters were over sexualized, and some of the dialogue was just terrible. The writing is very flat and lacks substance especially when coming from a book where the dialogue keeps the momentum of the plot going. But there were some well-placed lines. The stunt choreography was fantastic and the music was an improvement from the film, but the special effects seemed to overwhelm senses rather than give a subtle essence to a different world.
With a new medium for The Mortal Instruments has come a new cast that the fandom has warmly embraced. The show is well cast, there is no doubt about that, but a big concern of this adaptation has been whether or not the characters are done justice. But I must say it really shows on screen how some actors excelled in the research of their roles.
One thing you should know about pilots is that they’re far from perfect. It’s forty minutes to sell a show and convince the audience to give a damn. But it also serves as the backstory for the show, which means there is a lot of exposition and a ton of information crammed into a single episode. Most of the time it can feel too rushed or too much to take in all at once.
Shadowhunters definitely fell victim to that. While there’s plenty of story to tell, the pilot felt like it was sprinting the entire time. There needed to be some space for it to breathe; to really take in each scene and let it play out instead of rushing it due to time constraints. But that’s often one of a pilot’s biggest criticisms: too rushed.
While I’m not closed off to change, the change that rubbed me the wrong way had to do with the characters. The characters lacked heart and depth, and I found myself not really caring about them. But there were also new characters that take over vital roles from essential characters. It’s those kind of fundamental changes that worry me. I’m open to subtle changes in the storytelling of it all, but the foundation of this story is the characters and their importance in the grand scheme of things. My biggest concern moving forward is that Shadowhunters doesn’t struggle with presenting these characters that we love as something else entirely. They are the reason why fans love the books, and they’ll be the reason why the fans love or don’t love the show.
When push comes to shove, the action sequences won’t mean a damn thing if no one cares about the people fighting. It’s one of the reasons why those superhero shows like Arrow, Flash, and Supergirl work. Sure, the initial draw is the superhero element of it all, but there’s a greater emphasis on the characters as people not as their superhero personas, which binds the audience to these characters and makes them give a damn. Honestly, that’s the direction I pray Shadowhunters takes. Make us love these versions of the characters; make them stand tall on their own; make them exist as an extension of the plot and not in spite of it.
While female strength is one of the most important messages in The Mortal Instruments and Cassandra Clare’s books in general, Shadowhunters came off as demeaning to the women on the show and the women watching it. It became more about how the women were perceived physically rather than intellectually. In the books, Isabelle is a beautiful woman, but she uses her feminine superiority as a weapon not as an excuse. I can only hope that the women of Shadowhunters are treated with more respect moving forward.
With Shadowhunters being based on The Mortal Instruments, there are certain expectations that fans have about what to expect. Whether it’s significant moments from the books or character expectations, that’s one of the responsibilities that one takes on when adapting a worldwide phenomenon of a book series into a television show. While the pilot followed several significant scenes from the first few chapters of City of Bones, I was disappointed that a certain scene that fans were anticipating didn’t make the final cut. It’s scenes like that – that come directly from the book – that are nice treats for the book fans and show the strong foundation of the story’s roots; the scenes that the fans of the books are expecting because they’re such an integral part of the story. But I’m hopeful that we’ll see other scenes from the book take form on the small screen adaptation.
While Shadowhunters shows promise, for me it didn’t fully do justice for the book. Perhaps that’s because it’s a pilot and pilots often rub people the wrong way, but there was just something fundamentally missing for me as a viewer that tends to draw me to material. Although it pays homage to the book, Shadowhunters lacks the heart, the wit, and the intensity of the characters that we’ve grown to know and love. But Shadowhunters has the potential to get to that place. The question and concern is, will it get there?
After watching the show I discovered a newfound desire to re-read the books. I left the pilot feeling optimistic about the direction of the show moving forward. The show has potential, and it appeals to both the book and a new audience. It raises questions that people that aren’t familiar with the books would be interested in. While the pilot was far from perfect, it was enjoyable to watch the beginnings of this story take root, and I’m curious to see where Shadowhunters takes these characters and this story. There are pieces in place and an entire world to explore with this show that gives me hope that the producers will take it where it needs to go; where it’s meant to go; where it deserves to go.
Shadowhunters premieres Tuesday at 9/8c on Freeform.
Read other reviews about Shadowhunters:
I think as long as the pilot was somewhat enjoyable and has potential, there is plenty left to explore and is a good sign. A lot of pilots are like that.
I loved this series so far and yea there were some flaws but over all I thought this series was great and I would love to see many more seasons. Please people lets just wait and see more until we start to judge. I loved it’s so congrats to the cast!!
I agree with the above comment. There are several pilots as such that I’ve discovered and then grew to love the show ( i.e. Once Upon A Time and Stitchers). I will wait to see the first few episodes before giving the small screen adaptation a yay or ney. Let’s keep this positive 🙂
The first 5 or 6 episodes of any series usually leave me wanting, and then I get hooked
Most pilot episodes are high on exposition and are rushed, because of that they lack heart. This isn’t new and this was expected. I think we’ll only be able to really judge the show once we’ve seen the first 4 to 5 episodes. Some actors also need the time to get into character and find their rhythm. There have been a lot of horrible pilots with shows that ended up being amazing and vice versa so let us not condemn Shadowhunters based on just this. Let us give it a chance to prove itself. Look at The 100: bad beginning but it turned out into one of the best shows on tv with raving reviews.
I watched the first seven minute teaser. I thought the writing and acting were terrible. I will start by saying that I am a mega fan of the book series. But I gave the teaser the same chance that I give all new shows. I know alot of people would think that seven minutes isn’t long enough to judge but every show I have ever seen has atleast been watchable seven minutes in. I felt like these actors were just reading from cue cards. there was nothing real or emotional nor was there anything that connected you to them as the characters they were portraying. Like for instance Clary–in the beginning it is clear that she is a down to earth, naive girl who is impulsive and does not think before she makes a bold move, hence walking in on the shadowhunters dealing with a demon. The first couple of pages of the book insinuate what kind of character she is? where was that in this girl’s acting. I realize that books can go into a person’s mindset and shows can’t. but their are other subtle ways of connecting to the character. she did not come off to me as a fragile, naive mundane with the spirit the character portrays in the book. I don’t expect everything to b similar to the books. But the characterization was hideous to say the least..all lines seemed to be delivered unbelievable and without any emotion. this is something I am critical on whether it’s based on a book I love or just a new show. If the first episode continued like that then it deserves to be cancelled.
You also realize that the seven minute preview was thrown together for NYCC and had minimal editing right? The acting and such seems a lot better in the newer previews we’ve gotten. You can see the naivety in Clary in the new scene with Jocelyn. I find that people don’t realize how helpful ADR and multiple rounds of editing can help a show. Give the final product a chance instead of jumping straight to “it deserves to be cancelled” when you haven’t even seen a completed version.
I agree with both Alec and Macy. Pilots are often not that good. In almost every show that I watch, the first two to three episodes are not that great. But we must realize that we are not in the show’s world. We are not friends with the characters, or living in the area they are. We are the audience who is watching a fictional TV show and must be familiarized with the show’s world, the characters, the family/friend dynamics, and current life happenings. Then the big ‘OMG! Where did that come from?!’ moment happens. So what happens when that big moment comes, and we do not have the basic ground work? I will tell you: we do not feel anything for the characters, because we know nothing about them. We do not feel as though we could almost step into the show’s world, and feel the excitement, the humor, or the awe of the moment. I personally am looking forward to Shadowhunters because I have hope that maybe it will be done justice. But I am concerned about Isabelle and Clary being over sexualized, and overall the behavior of other characters as well. But never the less, I am a fan with open arms to acceptable change. Who knows, I might end up liking it even more than the City of Bones movie, so long as the material is appropriate and they stick to what is important: Clary’s journey to save her mother and to defeat her wretched father. Not the love lives of the characters. But I am going to wait until a sufficient amount of material has been released of the TV show before I comment on its worth.
I agree totally with what you are saying! People just need to give it a chance because they couldn’t put everything from the book. The series wouldn’t last if they didn’t give the people a chance to build on the characters or the plot. The main plot needs to be about Clary and her journey, not how many times they kiss.
Exactly. Finally, someone who gets the big picture! Thanks for your reply!
I agree with Alec’s reply! It takes a lot for me to be interested in a show. Take Sons of Anarchy, I hated the pilot and for years told fans the show was retarded and the actors weren’t good. I even loved other work they did before and during. Now I own all seasons and started with season 4 on tv while it was airing. Don’t give up because the pilot isn’t what you think, you’ll miss great shows that way! I also loved the first 7 minutes of the show. I think they will do just fine and will surprise everyone. My friend who haste was the books also watched it and is anticipating Tuesday which says a lot to me!
Kudos to Alyssa for being honest about her opinion. Especially about the over-sexualised depiction of Isabelle, because obviously we all know how controversial *that’s* been in the fandom. (I personally agree with you). I know a lot of people are keen to downplay the faults of the pilot ep such as the info dumping and rushing through plot etc — and I agree that we can’t *fully* judge the series until we’ve seen a good few episodes — but there are some other things (more to do with character) that Alyssa and others have all criticised that I find considerably worrying — these are things that can’t really be *improved* upon once the pilot has established and set up those characters in that mould. Characters develop throughout the series, but it’s rare that characters undergo a complete u-turn i.e. the issues w/ Clary and Isabelle. It sounds to me like they’ve deviated quite a lot from the source material, and were fully intending to do so from the outset — at least that’s the impression the cast have given in interviews and stuff. So, I’m not hopeful and I’m not expecting much. Which is sad, really, because this is probably the last chance TMI has for an adaptation. 😦
I read this review and the other 2 as well. A criticism of reviews I heard long ago came to mind: “Those who can, do; those who can’t criticize.”
Awaiting the first full episode, my main complaint is that once again Valentine Morgenstern looks nothing like the character described in the book. For the TV show, casting doubled down and did the same with Luke Garroway. 😦
Finally, someone who will say something about Luke. Not being racist or anything, but I really imagined Luke looking like he did in the City of Bones movie. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks Luke got it the worst.
Honestly, though, if they were going to change someone, I’d much rather it be Luke. Isaiah Mustafah doesn’t bother me at all- he seems totally fine and like a father figure! And Alan Van Sprang is going to be an awesome Valentine- he played King Henry on Reign (character becomes crazy from poison) and he did a fantastic job! I am a hardcore Mortal Instruments and Reign fan, and I can say with complete and utter certainty that Van Sprang will do an excellent job bringing the villain of all villains (Valentine) to life.
I feel like Alberto Rosande, Emeraude Toubia, Harry Shum Jr., and Matthew Daddario are perfect fits for their characters. The one thing that bugs me is that Alec does not have blue eyes (in the books, it is constantly emphasized that Alec has dark hair, blue eyes, and that is Magnus’ type) but I think I can get over that. Daddario fits Alec in every other category (tall, dark hair); it doesn’t hurt that his eyes are beautiful the way they are either :).
I was initially worried about Kat McNamara, but in the wave previews on Freeform that were just released today, she definitely sold the naive act and I think she will improve her acting after the pilot. She needs to get into her groove, and I have hope for her.
I loved Dominic Sherwood in Vampire Academy and the Style music video, but he needs to sell me a little bit as to why he’s the perfect Jace. I felt like Jamie Campbell Bower was Jace, and he had that snarkiness and edge that is classic Jace. Sherwood appears to be missing that personality component a bit, but hopefully he’ll prove me wrong; I’m willing to give him a chance.
The actor who bothers me the most: Maxim Roy (Jocelyn). I was basically laughing at Maxim Roy’s acting, which is not a good sign. At least Jocelyn will be in a coma for a while after that.
Here is the thing that I’m extremely unhappy about: Clary and Isabelle being over sexualized, especially the latter character. Izzy is a badass, and she does not deserve the demeaning scene in which she basically does a suggestive dance. I hope that they give Izzy more substance after the pilot, because otherwise that might be a deal breaker for me—I can’t stand to see my favorite character torn apart. I am a hardcore fan who has been following the casting news since they announced the TV show last March, but that might be too much for me to take.
Yeah I’ve seen a another review that basically says the same thing- that the pilot was okay but potential is there. I just go back to agents of shield as an example. The whole first half of the season was meh , but to say it has improved is a huge understatement. It’s my favorite show to look forward to every week now , so I’m hoping this show will be awesome too. We just have to be patient. I love the mortal instruments world and hope for the best!
I agree!!! Agents of Shield started off awful and it was hanging on by a thread until major plot lines turned it into an outstanding tv show! Since this is it’s break, I’m gonna watch Shadowhunters. I also hope for the best!!!
out of curiosity, what would it take for you to give up on the show? What characters would they need to destroy? What plot lines would need to be ruined or cut? Are you really looking forward to multiple scenes focusing on Ed Decter’s original characters? How many episodes in is it ok to say it sucks?
I guess I just don’t understand the defensiveness of some fans toward something they’ve never seen. What has Ed Decter done to earn that loyalty?
Nothing. Ed didn’t seemed to care about what the fans think when fandom were campaigning to be remain faithful and true books on twitter and other social media a few a months back. It wasn’t promising. I still remember that day and I still feel troublesome about the show. Sometimes reviews like this are true, blunt and hard to accept. I care about the characters, who they are and how they grow. If that’s ruined, I might up on the show but I also want to give them a chance.
I personally do not think that they kept as true to the show as they could at all. The cast is messed up. The locations are messed up and run by the wrong people. And some are even missing entirely!
But by the 5th episode I will have a good grasp on my final thoughts on the show. After all, there are only 13 episodes to one season. If by the 5th episode its not good, then I’m going to start losing hope. So far I see some potential by watching the promos, but it needs a lot of work. Never the less, I am waiting for the show, then I will be leaving more comments.
I do hope they do the show justice and it gets way better.
Also, great thanks to Alyssa for being honest with us fans. Honesty is after all the best policy, instead of trying to make the show seem better than it really is.
And not just the over sexualization of Izzy, I feel like Clary was too. She was wearing this shirt that was way too showy for book Clary’s liking and there was this random moment in the pilot where Clary was clinging onto a random guy and talking about his muscles…….that was extremely weird and made me cringe.
I feel like they changed the personality of Clary in the show. I really like Clary (book Clary). I liked how she cared so much for her friends and family that she would do anything for them. I liked how she would charge into action just with the thought of protecting them. 😀
The dialogue in the books were awesome and they flowed really nicely. But in the scene where Jace met Clary outside Pandemonium in the pilot, it was super awkward and it was like they were flirting. Clary didn’t even like Jace in the beginning of the book. I really hope this show gets better.
Just saying, i really liked the movie. Well, the first 80% of it anyway (it shattered when Valentine appeared and things just became weird and confusing) And I felt like the acting there was better. (And Jamie’s fantastic)
Anyone else think it was weird seeing the Circle members standing openly out there in Pandemonium? First of all, they don’t look like that. They just look like shadowhunters, and the Circle was disbanded a long time ago, after the Uprising. I know the Circle members were still working for Valentine and all, but they wouldn’t be standing randomly around, letting everyone know they’re part of the Circle.
So agree with everything you just said. And OMG! 😲 Clary really did that to a guy in a clip? Really stupid. Just stupid. 😒 I haven’t watched the new clips for the show yet. Must do that.
Also, I must say that I loved the movie, and so wish that they would have continued with those. It was very enjoyable. 😁
Book Clary: perfect. Movie Clary: way on point, and I do like how Lily maintained Clary’s defensiveness over the ones she loves. TV Show Clary: Kat (actress) makes me think ‘Ew. Brat.’
My emotions are acting up. Meant for a smiley to be by ‘It was enjoyable.’
Meant ’emoticons’! Sorry, stupid predicting thing.
I know what you mean – I don’t really like many of the actors for the TV show. I thought the movie actors were good because they were good looking in an unusual way. Kat is too pretty and perfect and I can’t imagine her looking comfortable in paint covered clothes
I know what you mean. I’ve watched several movies with Kat McNamara in it and for some reason, she’s always the mean and popular kid in the school. Her characters seem bratty. I know the actress probably isn’t, but still….
everything you’ve just said literally is true! I loved the movie to and they should make a second movie with the original casting!!!
Jamie Jace’s cheekbones though….
Yeah. Jamie and Lily were perfect! And they became an actual couple because they were both on the cast of the movie! I totally ship it!
I understand that it’s the first episode and I’m totally ok that the actors are a bit rusty on living up to their part. I mean, it’s not just like say hi, walk in, and immediately know everyone around you. Though, they should have had some kind of warm up beforehand, they’re human. However, I do have a problem with the oversexualized females of the show. Clary insped me because she showed me that you don’t have to be athletic or super genius to be the hero. Izzy inspired me because every foe she came across underestimated her abilities, only to be left dead or incredibly regretful of their thought decision. When I saw the clip of her and Meliorn together, they turned yet another strong female lead into a romance puppet. I’m upset with that. But that’s all.
You have an excellent point! Agree with you totally.
I think I will give the show a chance because I love the books and I want to see how the actors portray each character in the book. I’m very disappointed with some of the casting( obviously because I loved the movie’s casting). the seven minute preview put me off from watching the show but I thought I would give it a chance because, as most of you have said, not every first episode or season turns out good but it will get better( hopefully) if not then I will be very disappointed because I love the books. I loved the first film and the original casting and I am very sad they are not making a second movie, but hopefully the show will help redeem that. And can someone tell me if its true they can use the prequel money and the TV shows money to make the sequel of the mortal instruments because I think it would be better to make the sequel as the movie has left many unanswered questions! #themortalinstrumentsfanforever
OMG! They really might use the show’s money to make a prequel to City of Bones?! Don’t know if it’s true but looking into it now! Yay, Godfrey and the rest of the perfect cast returning! Please make it Shadowhunters! I’m begging you!
i know I’m literally looking into it because I loved the film and original cast and they need to make a second movie!!!!
I’m upset it makes the ancient gritty battle against demons as easy as tracking one with some flashy computer and poking it with your Seraph blade- poof, it’s gone.
I completely agree with this post, I am very concerned. 😦
This show is absolutely terrible watched first 2 episodes and I am ashamed I read the books based on what they created. So many problems!
I think this review is a fair assessment of the first episode. Yes there’s potential but the editing was weird, the sound editing was also weird. I can get over the plot changes (the movie was way more faithful in that regard). I’m assuming the character additions and changes will make sense later. Simon is great! Magnus I think will be great, and at least we see his eyes which is cool. I hope the future episodes take time to develop the characters more, Jace’s sense of humour doesn’t come across well at all but again I blame editing. Fingers crossed for future episodes but anyone who hasn’t seen it should judge for themselves. A lot of comments out there of people loving it.
Honestly, I feel exactly the same way about the pilot and I thank you for saving me the trouble of having to write my own review.
Well what can I say… it was the 5 minutes and I was sitting there thinking to myself, what the hell am I watching… The movie was so much better and they should make a sequel. I knew the TV show would be a bad idea. i have to say, it was TERRIBLE editing and acting( in my opinion) Simon and Magnus and Alec were the highlight for me and I didn’t think that the rest of the actors did a very good job. They have really, I wouldn’t say ruined but they haven’t certainly lived up to any expectations from the book and its a shame because this was supposed to reveal one of the best selling books to the world and it has sort of let it down. Overall, I think some of the scene was okay, but in my opinion they should keeping going to try and redeem itself from the first episode and make a second movie as well!
Now that the episodes have come out, thoughts…(and spoilers)…
That was actually the biggest turnoff. The other questionable thing is that *downworlders are apparently helping Valentine*. Wait, what? I hope I’m misreading that. Now, there might be a reason why, but Valentine doesn’t seem the type to EVER condescend to even demanding help from downworlders.
As far as the rest, yes, the pilot was rushed, but the second episode (available through the Freeform app or website) slowed things down a bit and things got better. Yes, some of the acting was flat and some of it was decent. Yes, we need to see Jace’s snarky sense of humor make an appearance. I don’t care for Isabelle’s portrayal atm, although I think I understand why they’re making her less antagonistic towards Clary right from the start. They don’t have the time to spread out her gruffness and eventual acceptance of Clary over several episodes when they have so much other ground to cover.
Overall, it’s certainly not perfect, but it has potential.
Things that will help, going forward:
1) Don’t make things so blatant and on-the-nose. Trust your audience to be a bit more intelligent than that. They don’t need to be so totally hand held through major plot developments (like Clary learning she’s a Shadowhunter, for instance).
2) Don’t make EVERYTHING in the fantastical world that Clary now finds herself in, all geared towards contributing to a perfectly linear plot. It shouldn’t all be about Valentine. This is a living, breathing world. Show us a little of that. A good example is the demon that jumped out of the water to attack Clary when she was a child. Yes, that served to advance the plot, but it also showed that there IS a fantastical world out there that operates according to its own purposes. Having the vampires have their own purposes, for example, rather than serving the linear plot, would make a lot more sense.
3) Please, please, PLEASE don’t make the mistake of doing something as bad as putting a villain’s evil lair at the site of a failed nuclear reactor in the future. It’s just NOT believable in the least. I’ll do my best to ignore that for now, but using the book’s idea of an abandoned mental hospital would have been so much better.
4) So Jace and Clary aren’t an item yet, and Jace has made it pretty clear he’s not interested. Maybe show him getting snarkier the more emotionally vulnerable he starts to feel?
Going foward based on the plot is okay. But am i just the one that realized all of the actors is terrible? Or the script make them as stiff as wood?