Shadowhunters S01E01 “The Mortal Cup” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Netflix, episodes released weekly
Writer: Ed Decter
Essential Plot Points:
- In New York, a trio of Shadowhunters – Jace, Isabelle, and Alec – go demon hunting. They want to know why some demons are murdering muggles… sorry, mundanes and draining their blood.
- The Shadowhunters are invisible to most muggles… sorry mundanes. But Alec bumps into a girl who can see him which clearly confuses him.
- She’s Clary, an art student celebrating her 18th birthday. She also’s a Shadowhunter-in-waiting but she doesn’t know that because her mother has been using a warlock to wipe her memory to shield her from the existence of Shadowhunters and other “Downworlders” (vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, PPI cold callers… maybe not that last one – there’s seems to be no magic that can shield you from them).
- Clary, confused by Alec’s reaction to her, follows him into a nightclub where she sees him, Alec and Isabelle kill a bunch of people. They’re actually demons but she doesn’t know this, so scarpers.
- She gets home and mum, Jocelyn, half reveals to Clary her Shadowhunter heritage but is cut off when the demon version of the Blues Brothers attack. They’re after some cup or other. Clary escapes through a portal. Mum stays and fights then drinks a potion that puts her in a coma.
- The Blues Brothers (and another expendable henchman) teleport the comatose Jocelyn to the lair of the big bad, Valentine, in Chernobyl. He clearly has a history with her. The baddies are part of something called “The Circle” which Jocelyn betrayed 18 years ago and she’s been hiding amongst muggles… sorry mundanes ever since. (Hmmm… 18 years ago… Clary is 18… you don’t need to have read the books to join the dots, so you?). Expendable henchman is killed to demonstrate that Valentine is not a nice man.
- Another scrape with a demon later, Jace rescues Clary and takes her back to Shadowhunter HQ and fills her in on Downworlder stuff, while Alec and Isabelle act like Edward’s siblings in Twilight; Alec is all suspicious and antagonistic, Isabelle is all kooky and “Wow! You go sister!”
- Clary’s best friend, Simon, tracks Clary to the HQ using “Find My Friend” on his cell phone. He’s secretly in love with Clary but this is a little stalkerish. He and Jace do not hit it off.
Cassandra Clare’s YA novel series was always a case of style over substance. It seemed almost cheerfully derivative – an unapologetic mix of Star Wars, Twilight, Harry Potter and countless others – but won readers over with its humour, quirkiness and adorable lead character: Clary, a spunky, witty, teen misfit. Oh yeah, the reminds us – Buffy was an influence too. It wasn’t great literature but it was fun.
Fun is something that’s missing from this new TV version. After the messy, unfocussed film City Of Bones flopped, the producers decided to reboot the franchise on the small screen instead. In theory, this is a good idea. The film felt like a big budget TV pilot anyway; one of its main problems was that – despite some icky CG demons and a couple of nice sets – it didn’t feel cinematic. The “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” jumble of elements suggested episodic TV might be a better place to explore the rich world Clare created.
Great theory. Might have worked with a decent script. Or a decent cast. Or decent direction. Sadly, Shadowhunters is blessed with none of these. One or two or the three would have helped. But no.
To be fair, none of these elements are terrible either. It’s not a terrible cast, just one that neither gels nor looks like anyone is really relishing their characters (with the possible exception of Emeraude Toubia as Isabelle). The script isn’t terrible, just one that looks like a scriptwriter ticking off a checklist of “how to make a pilot”. The direction isn’t terrible (aside from the incoherent action scenes), but it is workmanlike. There’s a wearying feel of “Oh, that’ll do” about the whole episode.
Katherine McNamara is especially disappointing as Clary. At least Lily Collins brought a Winona Ryder-esque kookiness to the film Clary, but McNamara is too strait-laced and standard-US-teen-drama-lead to bring the necessary fun to the character. You get the feeling she’d rather be the lead in the next rehash of Beverley Hills 90210. To be fair, she isn’t helped by a script that doesn’t give Clary much to do other than blindly react and continually ask, “But how…? But why…? But what…?” And there’s zero frisson between her and Jace (Dominic Sherwood).
Maybe it’ll improve as the cast and production team get into their groove. Maybe it’ll find an audience from viewers who just want good looking leads in leather. But for the moment it’s little more than very attractive moving wallpaper.
- It’s not The Chronicles Of Shannara (but that’s another story).
- It has lightsabers (well, kinda…)
- It’s not a two-hour pilot.
- Isabelle and Alec are fun.
- The opening scene with the shapeshifting demon works well.
- The characters, with one or two exceptions, are bland.
- Every element of the basic set-up feels like hand-me downs from other YA fantasy series and nothing in the pilot distracts you from that.
- There’s little of the quirky humour or warmth the helped make the books series a success despite its lack of original ideas.
- The demons are a generic bunch; the CG is decent enough but the design of them looks so mid-’90s.
- The action scenes are a mess.
- The cliffhanger is really, really, really dull, almost as if this should have been a two-hour pilot and that was never supposed to be the cliffhanger.
And The Random:
- Hey look, the nightclub that puts the “demon” into “Pandemonium”. This is actually a gag from the book.
- FRANKIE SAYS RELAX.
- Surely wiping your daughter’s memory is some kind of child abuse? Especially when it leaves her defenceless and ignorant if Downworlders come back into her life. Which is exactly what does happen.
- Director McG also called the shots on the two Charlie’s Angels movies and Terminator Salvation, as well as being an executive producer on Chuck, Supernatural and Nikita among others.
- There was a brief moment – after one caption saying, “Eight Hours Earlier” and soon after (when we’re still in that “Eight Hours Earlier” time stream) another saying, “Ten Years Ago” – when we thought the series might go all high concept on us and continue having flashback inside flashbacks until we were back at the dawn of time.
Review by Dave Golder