In this season’s biggest cross-media win-win situation, The CW has opted to combine the works of author L.J. Smith into a two-hour block of supernatural television. Following the network’s other hit, The Vampire Diaries, with the high school witches of The Secret Circle could turn out to be the network’s next big programming attraction.
With new shows like the Sarah Michelle Gellar thriller Ringer and Hart of Dixie with Rachel Bilson, The CW has launched just a single teen-centric drama this season – and they chose The Secret Circle. No doubt the already established fanbase of the books and the lead-in of the series’ sibling The Vampire Diaries made the decision easy – but does this mean The CW is leaving teen drama behind?
Not if the premiere of The Secret Circle has anything to say about it.
The series follows Cassie Blake (Brittany Robertson), as she complicates the life of the average teenager with burgeoning superpowers brought on the bane of all high schoolers – peer pressure.
After losing her mother in a (witchcraft induced) house fire, Cassie relocates to Chance Harbor, Washington, to live with her grandmother. In the span of her first day of at her new school, Cassie manages to catch the eye of five other students – all of whom seem very eager for her to join their little clique.
Soon, after another run-in with a bit of witchcraft fire (this time directed toward her car), Cassie is coaxed by her new acquaintance, Diana (Shelley Hennig), to a secret location where she and the other four reveal to Cassie that she is to be the sixth and final piece of their circle. It turns out that with Cassie’s being there, and the aid of a binding ritual, the group will have full control of their now vastly augmented powers.
Unfortunately for the would-be coven, Cassie’s presence may have come too late. The group’s bond is already breaking due to a conflict between the well-intentioned Diana and wild-child-in-the-making Faye (Phoebe Tonkin), who, after setting Cassie’s car on fire and summoning up a massive storm, could use a ‘power and responsibility’ talk from Uncle Ben.
And, as always, teenage hormones add to the overall confusion as Diana’s boyfriend Adam (Thomas Dekker) takes a shine to Cassie – making an ill-advised pass at her while in the midst of making some water droplets float in air.
However, all of this is small potatoes as the The Secret Circle’s real big baddie is revealed to be many of the teen witches’ parents – headed up by Diana’s father Charles (Gale Harold) and Faye’s mother/high school principal Dawn Chamberlain (Natasha Henstridge).
Overall, The Secret Circle comes off as a fun teen-angst program that successfully utilizes its inherent appeal to the core demographic, without alienating anyone else that might be casually tuning in.
The cast all handle their roles well – especially Robertson, who was last seen in Life Unexpected, and manages to play everything from a disbelieving teenager and coy love interest in the span of this pilot episode. Tonkin also stands out as the potentially wicked witch who relishes her newfound abilities a little too much – managing to play the bad girl without chewing the scenery. Meanwhile, the ancillary characters like Melissa (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Nick (Louis Hunter) perfectly round out the periphery without seeming tacked on.
The Secret Circle really goes out of its way to put all of its pieces together quickly. Writer Andrew Miller manages to pack a lot of explanation into a single episode without constantly reminding the audience they need to believe in what the show is delivering to them. Miller, and executive producer Kevin Williamson (Scream, Dawson’s Creek) simply know that their audience is already along for the ride.
But, ironically, that’s where the first complaint comes in. Unlike the audience, the pilot is somewhat hindered by the fact that it must prove its own premise to the main character, which makes the climactic scene feel rushed and Cassie’s character arc a bit diminished. Hopefully, once the series gets into its third and fourth episodes, the initiation will be over, and the show can better delve into the circle’s relationship with one another – and their new abilities.
Overall, the look of the pilot is up there with episodes of Smallville and Supernatural – which both effectively dealt (and still deal) with the inherent limitations of television. Williamson brings to The Secret Circle the same kind of production values he gives The Vampire Diaries, which is a key element in making a program like this work. Unlike the other series premiere on The CW this week, Ringer, The Secret Circle delivers a fairly polished final product whose only real flaw is the use of poor CGI.
That’s not to say there aren’t some bigger faults to be found, however. Like most programs of this ilk, The Secret Circle needs to push the viewer in a particular direction, and in doing so, manages to craft some rather ham-fisted lines like “Bad things happen when you mess with fate.”
Furthermore, during what was likely intended to be the key witchy moment of the episode (Faye’s dockside conjuring of a rainstorm), the character comes off like she’s half-heartedly trying to stop a Rottweiler from mauling the neighbor’s cat, forcing Cassie to take the reigns and lamely save the day. In the future, it would behoove the writers to better utilize the exploration of power and its potential for misuse with something that isn’t seemingly wished away.
Still, with a whole slew of mysteries to uncover, and new powers to explore, The Secret Circle should have a fairly captivating season ahead. Coupled with The Vampire Diaries, The CW is looking at a supernatural cocktail more potent than True Blood.
The Secret Circle airs Thursday @9pm on The CW.
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