Kids today. Raised by a publishing world saved from destruction by Harry Potter, they consider an endless churn of YA fiction series featuring a diverse array of superskilled and/or magically gifted young folk to be their birthright, the American Girl dolls of the literary world.
And with the “Twilight” and “Mockingjay” films in repeats on their laptops, they further assume that many of those series will be also offered for their viewing pleasure as film franchises. Hollywood has been happy to comply with “Percy Jackson,” “Divergent,” “The Maze Runner,” etc.
Not all adaptations work, however; despite an A-list cast and the involvement of Tom Hanks, the “City of Ember” film bombed as did “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.”
So it’s only natural that television, reconfiguring with all the blinding possibilities of a regenerating Time Lord, would take a shot. For a network looking to shake off the sheltering shackles of a name like ABC Family for the hipper handle Freeform, what better way than to resurrect a failed film franchise?
Unfortunately, Freeform’s adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instrument” series, called “Shadowhunters,” opens just as cocky as that effort sounds. Oddly confident that this time familiarity will breed success, creator Ed Decter and producer McG make far too many assumptions, including (and especially) the notion that good-looking young actors plus demons plus CG weapons and runic tattoos are enough to ensure a big hit.
Though Freeform has continually reassured fans that the show will remain true to “the spirit” of the books, by “spirit,” the creators appear to mean “aesthetics.”
Like the books, “Shadowhunters” revolves around a young redhead named Clary Fray, here played by Katherine McNamara (no relation) as a rising young art student just turned 18 whose mother, Jocelyn (Maxim Roy), clearly has Something Important to tell her.
Clary ignores her, of course, preferring to celebrate with best friend Simon (Alberto Rosende) at club PanDEMONium where she figures it out herself — she can see human-shaped demons and the ruthless young hotties who stalk them. In this case those hotties include Jace (Dominic Sherwood), Alec (Matthew Daddario) and Isabelle (Emeraude Toubia). That she can see them means she must be at least part Shadowhunter too.
Yes, that Chernobyl.
Pilots are notoriously overburdened creatures, especially when the supernatural is involved — so much to explain, so little time to explain it — and Decter had the added task of avoiding comparisons to a failed film.
But the first book of the series, “The Mortal Cup” is a sensibly structured novel that skillfully makes its archetypes — sassy heroine, brooding hero, complicated sidekicks — believable enough to ground a world full of half-angels, fairies, vampires and demons.
Which, despite the ubiquity of the supernatural in popular literature and on television, is not easy to do. Decter would have been better served sticking closer to Clare’s original narrative, which understood that the story of a “normal” person discovering that neither she nor the world is what she thought lives or dies with the depth and believability of that character.
McNamara does her best, but Clary has been written as all breeze and no storm, which makes her central relationship with Jace more an algorithm of attractiveness than chemistry. Decter appears far more interested in Revelations than revelation, and in his rush to get to the “good stuff” he has forgotten that this kind of stuff is good only when it takes a while to get there.
When: 9:02 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-DV (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and violence)