Going through the often painful process of having a beloved book adapted into a movie, especially a bad one, is old hat for me, and probably any reader. The subtleties lost by cramming a book into a movie, the terrible miscasting of characters, removing key moments, they’re old problems and complaints. However, there is, as far as I can tell, a relatively new risky business for book lovers to deal with; having your beloved books turned into a TV series. Besides masterpiece miniseries or whatever adapting classic bits of literature and Agatha Christie novels, I don’t really think this was a thing before TV experienced its recent renaissance.
Game of Thrones, I’ll throw it out there fast to get it over with, is a great example of when a book series makes an excellent TV series. George R. R. Martin is probably one of the few people that can write so dense a book series that even the TV folks have to trim a bit of the details back so they can fit everything in.
That’s an exceptional HBO show though. There are other series out there getting the deluxe TV series treatment, and there will probably be more coming soon too. I’m going through an emotional roller coaster watching a series I fell in love with back in high school get what I, and probably the rest of the fans too, hope is a good TV adaptation after a very pitiful attempt at a movie version was put forth. I’m talking about the new TV series Shadowhunters and its source material, Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. It’s not even done with its first season yet, but I’m carefully watching each episode and hoping the series won’t break my heart. So far, so good. That’s about the best review I can give a TV show that’s just started to cover one of my favorite book series. Contrary to the the success Game of Thrones has faced, TV adaptations of books can go just as wrong as movies. There are more and more TV book adaptations popping up on non-premium, cable TV just waiting to prove me right. I’m hoping Shadowhunters won’t be one of those for a while yet.
When adaptations have to stretch on long enough, the story gets stretched and warped too, and usually not for the better. The Walking Dead is a perfect example of a series that stretched and then scrunched up story lines, both from the comic books and of their own creation, making for the worst kind of whiplash between boring stretches of gore and brief climaxes of shock or, in the later seasons, dull amusement.
I can easily see a future of Shadowhunters where all the plot lines they liked and focused on are stretched thin and dry and then they just try to keep filling it with vaguely interesting stuff. One piece of the story already has me worried. As much as I love the romance between Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane, a really nice love story because it involves Alec coming to terms with his own sexuality and finding love with a fabulous warlock his parents would never approve of, I’m worried the show’s people are making it go by too fast because they know the fans love it and want to give their audience as much of what’ll keep them watching as possible. Luckily, it’s not nearly as dull as watching the ridiculously bloated “Hershel’s farm” portion of The Walking Dead. I enjoy the story line, and the actors are a million times better than whatever those things in the movie were, (that goes for the whole cast really, not just Magnus and Alec,) but I’m just worried the writers will run that story line through as far as it can go while everything else is still behind and then we’ll get the thrilling tale of Alec and Magnus’s third date at Red Lobster or something.
In most other respects, though, the show is pretty fairly paced, allowing for some nice exploration of different moments and characters, but never going too slow and not just fast-forwarding through the “boring bits” to get to the exciting moments and exploit those. At what is still the very beginning of the story, they are doing a very good job of introducing elements and key players from different parts of this fantasy world piece by piece, an episode at a time, while still keeping the general arc and flow of the story that I fell in love with.
I will admit turning any novel from a contained, lengthy story into the episodic format TV shows are made in is a difficult process, and I’ve learned that some playing around with plot and characters is expected. Shadowhunters does play around a bit with how many background characters get fleshed out, like Meliorn, Isabelle’s fairy boy toy, but I’ve found any changes so far are either an improvement allowing for more authentic character development, or at least acceptable.
For now, this show has entertained me and not broken my very nervous heart. If I seem a bit severe in parts of this review, it is only because the City of Bones movie disappointed me so deeply I still have trust issues with this series. Those books helped me through puberty and deserve only the best.
If you’re curious about whether you should watch the series, I’d say give it a try, even if you haven’t read the books, because it manages to be entertaining and flesh out the world pretty nicely without knowledge of the book needed to prop things up. If you’ve seen an episode or two of the show and think you might like the books, then definitely read the books, because the books are, of course, always better. I need to get that phrase tattooed on my face or somewhere else easy to see, so I can point to it very intensely whenever people ask me that dumb “Which was better?” question. I still adore the Mortal Instrument books and am nervous about any other media touching them, but so far the TV series has been a welcome companion.