YOU’VE DONE IT. You’ve been ill and stayed at home all week watching some honest-to-god-terrible TV show. You’ve invested that entire week in one programme and kept it like a dark secret because it had nothing going for it other than the fact it was shiny, the actors were pretty and it asked for no intellectual engagement greater than end-of-season plot points. But what happens when you stay invested in it when your health and mental wellbeing returns? Do you deny all knowledge? Do you discuss it secretly on Reddit and Tumblr? Never posting directly but following all those out and proud blogs and users with the show’s characters as their user names, icons and sole-focus of their content? It’s okay, we’ve all been there. The first step to a healthier state of mind is acceptance.
I make no apologies. I am this person at the moment. Last year I was off for a week, sick as I could be. I watched seven back-to-back episodes of Freeform’s TV adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments teen fiction extravaganza, ‘Shadowhunters’, thanks to the benevolent God that is Netflix. I then followed each weekly released episode until the end of season one, and here I am again, neck deep in season two as I plan my Tuesday evenings around forty five minutes (ish) of wall-to-wall one dimensional dialogue, cheap special effects and the lithe handsome bodies of a cast of werewolves, vampires, demon hunters (oh yeah) and seelies (they’re elves. Literally just run of the mill elves. Or elfs depending on your spelling preference). In my defence – it’s actually a pretty good show. Or is it? I can’t tell anymore, but here’s a rundown of the arguments for and against so you can choose whether or not to join me in my kingdom of dirt:
- Representation. There’s a pretty even split for AOC (actors of colour) and white actors on screen, and in season one particularly, the writers make every effort to give all the characters their own story arcs which feel genuine enough that everyone has a role to play in an otherwise very predictable plot.
- The protagonist is a woman (yay!), and despite seriously questionable love interests featuring heavily in her development, she also has a spunky can-do attitude and positive relationships with other women on-screen. She also fits the bill in terms of a fairly neutral disposition so that the immersion into this fantasy landscape can be experienced reasonably well through her experiences.
- LGBT+ characters are at the forefront of the main romantic sub-plot. That is to say, one gay couple get their time on-screen being openly flirtatious, physically intimate (more on this later), and developing a healthy relationship built on trust and communication (ish). As another strong positive point is that the openly bisexual half of this couple (Magnus Bane) is played by Indonesian actor/dancer Harry Shum Jr who is not only one of the strongest actors in the whole cast, but is also an intelligent choice for a warlock as he has to spend most of his time on-screen ‘doing weird stuff with his hands as various coloured magical CGI light does it’s thing around him’. So picking a man who moves his body for a living makes a lot of sense. Also, interracial LGBT+ relationships are a rare find, especially when they’re given the time and energy normally reserved for the straight white people.
- The costumes can be gorgeous. Most of the characters are of the ‘t-shirt and a cool leather jacket’ variety, but others (Magnus Bane) have looks that are consistently interesting, stylish and subtly brilliant. Costume department gets an A+.
- Like I said before, everyone in this show is really very pretty.
- It’s actually inclusive of different religions! In this America? I know! One character is openly Jewish and religious ceremonies are performed on-screen, including Hebrew prayer and religious dress. Considering this is a very easy-to-focus-on-Christian-imagery-kind-of-show (vampires and catholicism are a match made in heaven tbf) I found this to be a sign of a show that is Making An Effort.
- The above points being said, it does not necessarily do any of these things well.
- The dialogue can be openly laughable at times, “Ah Clarissa, so like your mother. Willing to do anything to protect those that you love.”
- The villain is awful. He’s got the evil-dad vibe down to a T, which works well in a novel where the main characters are all about sixteen so a caring parent is a genuine ask, but it doesn’t quite gel when the cast are all old enough to be worried about their yearly income.
- The special effects have a distinct ‘Charmed’ vibe about them. Which was fine in 1998, but isn’t quite what we want in a post-Avatar world. Sometimes they’re believable! But mostly not. See ‘Stargate SG-1’(1997) for the quality of the magical portals which appear every other episode.
- Bringing back my “LGBT+ physical intimacy” point (there will be a quiz later), once again the concept of gay couples having anything other than over-the-shirt hugging and general making out has been ignored entirely. Granted, they do apparently ‘do the deed’ but it’s without any real conversation or any of the usual prelude to losing your virginity. He grabs his boyfriend by the face, kisses him, announces “I want this!” and with a lot of discomfort from his other half they move swiftly behind a shut door. Meanwhile we get no less that at least a solid minute of the straight white dude in bed with one of those seelies I told you about, all naked and having a good old time in the same episode. I imagine to remind kids that it’s okay to have one night stands (which it is! Though more kids commit suicide from suppressing sexuality than do for not being able to pick up an elf at a bar so maybe that’s worth talking about. But hey. What do I know?)
- Seriously the dialogue is awful.
There you have it. Despite everything I’ve just said I am heavily invested in this show. I want to know what’s going to happen next, I look forward to the wardrobe choices of a particular bisexual warlock and I have actually taken the next step and started to read the original books. It’s a show that is doing things other shows aren’t, even if half the time it’s doing it with fists of pure ham. Plus the production quality is pretty low but I don’t care. If you want to destroy your artsy-hipster TV vibe, I recommend you join me and throw all Netflix credibility to the wind. Shadowhunters isn’t that bad. Or is it?