Failed It/Failed It: Shadowhunters Edition

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Usually in our Failed It/Nailed It column we look at book adaptations that are both successful and…not so successful. But sometimes there’s just nothing positive to say, which is unfortunately how I feel about the two major adaptations of Cassandra Clare’s über-popular The Mortal Instruments series.


Let me be clear: I’m a HUGE fan of Clare’s books. I’ve read every novel in her fantasy series, which focuses on Clary Fray, a teen girl who gets caught up in the world of Shadowhunters. The Shadowhunters are a secret, elite group of warriors descended from angels who battle paranormal creatures through the use of runes, or tattoos. Clare creates a rich world of hidden cities, vampires and super hot sarcastic boys (hello, Jace) who like to make out in alleys. It’s awesome.

So far, the books have been adapted twice – once in a lackluster 2013 movie and more recently as a TV show on Freeform, the newly imagined ABC Family network. Neither attempt has been very successful. Let’s dive into why, on Failed It/Failed It, the Shadowhunters edition:

Failed It: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

When I found out one of my favorite series was getting adapted, I literally screamed out loud, picturing the kind of epic awesomeness of The Hunger Games movies. Instead, I got a by-the-numbers, not-very-memorable teen movie that never quite captured the magic of the books (read: Vampire Academy, but that’s a discussion for another day!).

It’s not that it’s a bad movie. It’s just not great. There’s nothing to make it stand out, and the rich plot of the book is lost in a muddled, confusing storyline that still somehow manages to be too long. While I was fine with Lily Collins’ portrayal of Clary, Jamie Campbell Bower had none of Jace’s charm or wit. Their chemistry wasn’t strong enough to make the romantic scenes stand out, and without an awesome kiss, what’s left to root for? There’s a reason this movie has a low 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and that the franchise was dead-in-the-water after only one film, despite confirmation that a second movie was set to film.

Also Failed It: Shadowhunters

Oof, this series. After a disappointing movie, I was thrilled to hear that fans of The Mortal Instruments were getting a second chance at seeing our favorite series done RIGHT. ABC Family (or Freeform now) has rarely let me down in the past, and I live for the campy and ridiculously fun shows they’re known for. So imagine my disappointment to discover that Shadowhunters, which first aired January 12, is neither campy, nor fun.

As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew we were in trouble. The acting was horrible (like, I’m embarrassed for them, horrible), the stunts were low-budget and the whole tone seemed off. “Maybe it’s just the trailer,” I thought. But no. The show is walking that awkward line between taking itself too seriously and not living up to its own expectations.

The acting is so awful, you guys. Trust me, I want to love Jace and Clary together. But Katherine McNamara is both wooden and oddly combative as Clary, and Dominic Sherwood’s Jace seems like he would be more comfortable as a meathead villain on The OC. And that’s just the start. While some of the shots are lovely, for the most part the show can’t decide if it’s action, comedy or teen drama. It should have just embraced the camp from the beginning and run with it. But taken as a “serious” show about Shadowhunters, it fails on all counts.

These two obvious fails makes me wonder: why can’t Clare’s awesome series get a good adaptation? Plenty of book-based paranormal series have been successful – like True Blood! – just as plenty of teen books have been turned into serious, thoughtful and smart shows – like The 100. It’s time for someone out there to give The Mortal Instruments the kickass adaptation it deserves.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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