Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pilot Review: The Secret Circle

The Secret Circle (Thursdays at 9:00 on CW)

If The Secret Circle can grow as much out of its pilot as its sibling show The Vampire Diaries did, then we're in for something amazing. Two years ago, Kevin Williamson debuted a new teen supernatural soap seemingly in the vein of Twilight. That show was the CW's first runaway hit, The Vampire Diaries, and its pilot was awful: slow, boring, campy, heavy-handed. But it has blossomed over its first two seasons into something rivetting, becoming one of the better dramas on the broadcast networks. So if we have that level of growth to look forward to, then The Secret Circle will be wonderful.

The Secret Circle is based on a series of books by the author of The Vampire Diaries, L.J. Smith, and produced by the same team of Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec. We are introduced to teenager Cassie (Britt Robertson, Life Unexpected) on the night her mother is murdered with magic by a mysterious stranger (Gale Harold, Queer as Folk). Cassie's father died when she was a baby, so she is sent to live with her only other relative, a slightly eccentric grandmother. On her first day of school, Cassie runs into a rather strange group of people, including a potential love interest in Adam (Thomas Dekker, The Sarah Connor Chronicles). But then some weird stuff starts happening, such as her car catching on fire out of nowhere and being put out just as suddenly. Cassie suspects something is wrong, and her new friend Diana confirms it: Cassie, along with a group of several other kids in town, is a witch. Their power was somehow inherited from their parents, and now that Cassie is in town their circle can be complete and their power fully realized.

It's a pretty standard fish-out-of-water soap with the requisite complications: dead parents, love interest is already in a relationship, overbearing authority figures, a mysterious past. Even the witch plotline isn't all that original, as many of the characters seems like copies of ones from the film The Craft. Phoebe Tonkin even does her best Fairuza Balk impression as the "bad girl" of the group; she's easily the show's worst actor, and she sticks out like a sore thumb because of it. The performances around her are much stronger, especially from Robertson, Harold, Dekker and a surprising supporting performance from Natasha Henstridge.

There are some stunning moments in this first episode. The opening minutes in which Gale Harold's Charles, a member of the original circle with Cassie's mother, kills his former friend are thrilling and wonderfully shot. The scene (which I'm sure you've seen in the commercials) in which Adam helps Cassie channel her power into lifting raindrops off the ground is absolutely beautiful. They enhance an otherwise standard pilot and pique my curiousity. There's also some intriguing backstory, which I'm honestly more interested in than the story of Cassie's new circle. Their parents are apparently still practicing magic and for some reason attempting to eliminate old rivals, despite a horrible "accident" sixteen years before. I'm curious to learn more, if not super-excited. But again, the pilot of The Vampire Diaries was really lame, and now it's one of the shows I most look forward to watching each week. I can foresee enough interesting stories for The Secret Circle that may eventually bring it to that level as well. But all in all this was a solid first episode of a show that will likely only get better.

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