Slightly refreshing, mind you. 'The Secret Circle' will not redefine your idea of what a supernatural drama can be, what a CW show can be or what a program about witches and warlocks can be. All the pieces laid out here eventually end up in the exact places that you expect them to occupy.
Young woman discovering previously untapped abilities? Check. Dreamy guy to whom she is strangely drawn? Check. Bad girl determined to stir up trouble? Check. Layers of conspiracy and secrets in a small town with a dangerous history? Check. (Don't forget the poppy-yet-emo-ish soundtrack, which is also present and accounted for.)
Yet from its opening scenes, 'The Secret Circle' demonstrates an admirable confidence in its pace and destination, and it also has the excellent Britt Robertson ('Life Unexpected') giving the journey of Cassie Blake an emotional grounding that is likely to make the whole affair satisfying to genre fans and 'Vampire Diaries' devotees.
The CW's vamp show is worth mentioning, given that it, like 'The Secret Circle,' is based on a series of books by author L.J. Smith and also has Kevin Williamson ('Dawson's Creek') as one of its executive producers. Given that 'The Vampire Diaries' has been a hit for the CW, the network hasn't messed with the formula in concocting that drama's companion show: There are lots of pretty young people involved in supernatural shenanigans and enmeshed in complicated emotional relationships, and the plot crackles along energetically. (Sidebar: If only 'True Blood' had a tenth of these shows' discipline. Sigh.)
The 'Secret Circle' pilot neatly sets up an array of conflicts in the town of Chance Harbor, Washington, the new home of Cassie Blake, who's recovering from a personal tragedy. You will not be surprised that Cassie finds that life in this sedate-seeming waterfront village is not as it seems (dun-dun-dun!). OK, that "dun-dun-dun!" isn't completely fair, because 'The Secret Circle' doesn't lean too hard in the direction of melodrama, well, not unless the high school's resident mean girl is around. But, generally speaking, the show treats Cassie's life and problems as real, and for most of the main characters (including Thomas Dekker's dreamy, brooding Adam), having abilities isn't necessarily a good thing. Being able to cast spells can be helpful at times, but that's not always the case, and the characters' families and histories are often just one more knotty complication to deal with.
Still, witchy powers and teenage girls aren't actually a bad combination, as we've seen from decades of fiction, films and TV shows. At that age, sex, autonomy and fear often collide in unexpected and confusing ways, and if we're lucky, 'The Secret Circle' will continue explore those topics without beating the expected spell-oriented metaphors into the ground. At the very least, 'The Secret Circle' demonstrates that it's able to strike a suitably creepy tone at times, as the pilot does in the opening scene and whenever Gale Harold's manipulative character is around.
Of course, even though 'The Secret Circle' does what it sets out to do, I fully realize that this show isn't for everyone. If you're not really into the personal problems of people with supernatural abilities (and those who love them), nothing in the CW's Thursday night lineup will be your cup of tea. And it's true that, even as a genre fan, I felt 'The Secret Circle' could do with an injection of frivolity and/or imagination. Though I appreciated the fact that it didn't waste my time, the pilot almost felt almost too efficient. Ideally, going forward Cassie and company will be able to lighten up a little and the show will be able to add some depth to its array of high school characters (if they remain familiar types, it'll be deadly to any emotional momentum the show tries to build up).
My hope for 'The Secret Circle' is that it will develop into the kind of modest yet sturdy genre fare that I can watch at the end of the week, maybe as an escapist release after the complicated problems of the Winchesters on 'Supernatural' have brought me to the brink of an existential crisis or two. Syfy's 'Alphas' took a set of familiar ideas and executed its basic premise well over the course of its first season; if 'The Secret Circle' can do that, I certainly won't object.
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