Freeform’s transformation allows Shadowhunters the room it needs to grow into one of television’s best ensemble shows.
Shadowhunters‘s premiere introduced Freeform’s rebranding in January 2016. The Disney-ABC corporation announced that ABC Family would be dropping their namesake and reintroducing the network as Freeform. The early rebranding explanations hinted at targeting a new, wider audience. An attempt to get in touch with the “youths.” All in all the announcements felt… well, like this:
While the campaign left people scratching their heads, ABC Family quietly laid the groundwork to drive this change. The network built audiences with their original programming from Shailene Woodley’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager and kept them coming back with Pretty Little Liars. With the help of Netflix, that Liars‘ audience only grew and brought newer audiences each season.
Over time the network spawned more legacy shows. Switched at Birth and The Fosters are staples and grew solid audiences in the drama department. Additionally, take a look at the surprisingly long runs of the comedy programming, Baby Daddy and Young and Hungry, with six and five seasons respectively.
Though well underway already in their restructuring efforts, choosing Shadowhunters as the show to launch the network’s rebranding accomplished two goals. First, usher in a new fanbase to Freeform. And second, relaunch Shadowhunters in a new direction.
Season 2 shakeup
For the most part, season 1 of Shadowhunters hit the major beats of The Mortal Instruments. While it echoed the same beats as the highly-criticized film, a series allows the story more time to breathe. Which is exactly what Cassandra Clare’s complex and highly imaginative world needed. Less caricatures, more character-building.
That puts a lot of pressure on a new series and a new cast tackling some of the most popular fictional characters. Ahead of season 2, Hypable spoke with Alberto Rosende (Simon) who commented on the growing fanbase. He noted, “We had this fandom that was so loving and passionate and supportive and continues to grow in a way that everyone hopes for. It continues to blow our minds.”
While season 1 subdued the fear of the network and the cast, it was a hit, the pressure to match and exceed expectations were even higher. For better or worse things were about to change for the network and the series.
New boys in town
As season 2 headed back into production, showrunner Ed Decter left, and new leaders Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer stepped in as executive producers and co-showrunners. The duo not only took over a show with a massive following, but did the unthinkable. They broke away from canon.
Pitching season 2 as a darker look at the Shadowhunter universe, Slavkin and Swimmer pushed stories further, unpacked consequences a bit more, and ultimately used the expansive platform that Freeform offered them to shake up the world. Like Rosende mentioned to Hypable, it was a challenge coming back to Simon as an actor. Would the fans have trouble coming back to Shadowhunters as a viewer?
With half of the season complete the answer to that question is a resounding no. Shadowhunters is a darker show, sure. But it is also a better show.
New opportunities for ‘Shadowhunters’
One relationship that benefits from Freeform’s expansion of the series is Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane. Matthew Daddario and Harry Shum Jr. highlight Alec’s introspective personality and Magnus’ sharp wit with great care and attention. The duo tackle the segregation of their communities, Shadowhunters and Downworlders, with appropriate gravity. Additionally, Malec fans revel in the building of this relationship from flirtation to “I love you.”
By expanding the series, there is room for the couple to navigate their fears, trust issues, and build a more meaningful relationship as a result. For example, their first date and the subsequent Lightwood showdown in Magnus’ apartment did an excellent job showcasing everything that makes them different. But each episode took what each of them saw as insurmountable hurdles and push the characters to take a leap of faith.
Simon and Clary
In an interesting departure from The Mortal Instruments series, Simon and Clary find a way into early romance. The conclusion of 2A still launches the catalyst that ultimately drives Jace and Clary back together. Valentine reveals Jace is not his son. But instead of pushing the two into a love triangle, Clary and Simon enjoy their time in the sun. Quite literally now that Simon’s ingestion of angel blood affords him the ability to walk in the daylight.
Whether Simon and Clary are in it for the long haul remains to be seen. But Jace is certainly not over Clary, nor will he give up on their relationship. Especially not if Alec has anything to say about it. With the parabatai linked in all things, including emotions, Jace’s struggle will weigh heavily on Alec.
Well before shippers got to see their couple kiss on screen, the series lays the groundwork for a supportive, loving, and important friendship. Jocelyn’s death drives Simon to pull together the surrogate family he built with Clary. When Simon struggles adjusting to his new life as a vampire, Clary doesn’t ignore his call.
Their chemistry is undeniable, thanks in great part to Alberto Rosende and Katherine McNamara. Pushing this friendship into romantic territory boarders on dangerous seeing as Simon is more invested in their romance than Clary. But Shadowhunters constructs their mutual admiration for each other in a way that gives both sides equal footing. They cross the line together.
In addition to the relationships of the show, Shadowhunters tackles Izzy’s yin fen addiction. With Simon, Clary, Jace, Alec, Magnus, and her family preoccupied with their own issues, season 2 chooses to highlight what Izzy’s isolation does to her psyche. An injury causes her to seek treatment from Aldertree, but he fails to issue a stern enough warning about the lasting effects of yin fen, a highly addictive drug.
Izzy’s desire to appear fine on the surface leads her to bury her addiction and troll the streets looking for a hit when her supply runs low. Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict.
First, Raphael takes her in and becomes addicted to her shadowhunter blood. Next, Magnus picks up on her spiraling out of control. Finally, Alec, the last to know, takes matters into his own hands and it fractures his trust in Magnus, Raphael, and Izzy. The show does not hold back on its exploration of Izzy’s spiral into addiction and what it is costing her. She is losing her strength, her family, and herself.
Addiction and unexpected major character deaths are just the beginning. With season 2 only halfway over, don’t expect the show to ease up when it returns in June. They’ve just scratched the surface of the show’s depths. Hopefully, the attention stays on stories that challenge both the characters and the viewers.
Freeform’s changing landscape allows for shows to tackle some heavy-lifting. While the rebranding of last year caused some people to scoff, some of the explanations for the change sum up what works for shows like Shadowhunters.
“Freeform… free to take whatever shape feels right, free to push beyond the expected. Free to get from point A to point B in a line that’s nowhere near straight… this is where we break free.”
Shadowhunters is doing just that, breaking free. Free from the canon, free from the movie. And, most importantly, free from the fear that the show might disappoint fans.
Shadowhunters season 2B returns Monday, June 5 at 8:00 p.m. ET on Freeform.