This review contains spoilers.
With the success they’ve had with their supernatural teen drama The Vampire Diaries, it’s no surprise that The CW network has looked a little closer to home for its scheduling additions this season. Instead of vampires and werewolves, The Secret Circle has witchcraft and mystery, but the similarities between the two novel series (by the same author) haven’t been completely eradicated, based on this pilot episode.
Cassie Blake is a recently orphaned teenager who is shipped back to her mother’s hometown to live with her grandmother. At school, she meets a lot of students, ranging from friendly to creepy, who seem to take a keen interest in her, and things get even stranger when the adults around town also seem to be keeping an eye on her. Is it just small-town familiarity, or something more sinister? Seeing as the show has been billed as a supernatural family drama, you can bet there’s something more behind it.
Britt Robertson is a capable and perky lead; perfect for this kind of show, but lacking a real edge. Genre fans will be glad to see Thomas Dekker (previously John Connor in The Sarah Connor Chronicles) has returned to network television, but no one in the main cast stands out in this pilot. What we’re missing is someone as strong and intriguing as Ian Somerhalder’s Damon, who lit up its sister show’s mediocre first run of episodes.
And yes, we do have to talk about The Vampire Diaries. Not only do the two texts share an author, but the shows also share creators, writers and directors. Liz Friedlander, who directs here, is a teen show veteran, having been involved in episodes of Privileged, One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars, 90210 and Gossip Girl, along with several Vampire Diaries stories. Thankfully, she employs a lot of the tone from darker efforts like Pretty Little Liars, and the mystery of the show seems to be heading in the same direction.
There’s a love triangle between Cassie, Adam (Dekker) and nice girl Diana (Shelley Hennig), but chances are that’ll be resolved pretty quickly. They’ve got the potential for forbidden romance covered, as there’s rumblings of pairs destined for each other. Adam’s alcoholic father was in love with Cassie’s mother, for example, so it doesn’t look like their children stand much chance of ending up together.
Secret Circle seems like it’s trying for an ensemble show, but the trouble is none of the characters have been fleshed out enough. There are definitely types forming – the good girl, the bitch, the quiet best friend, and the forward, slightly-stalkerish boy next door – but this episode’s need to introduce Cassie and her role in the titular circle leaves any exploration of other characters in the background. The show also has a multi-generation element that makes the adult characters slightly more compelling. Whoever holds the answers to the mystery can usually hold the viewer’s attention for longer.
Seeing as it’s a show about witchcraft, a lot also rides on the potential for good special effects. There’s one great set-piece in this episode, and it bodes well for future episodes with more flashy examples of magic. The only thing that disappointed me was the difference in style to The Vampire Diaries, as there could have been more crossover potential otherwise. Hopefully, they might find a way to exist in the same universe later on.
There’s definitely a lot of potential in this initial episode, and there are suggestions throughout that the writers may have something up their sleeves for later on. Let’s hope it reaches the heights of its sister show, as a group of teenagers with unlimited power sounds like an entertaining accident waiting to happen.