Saturday, 17 September 2011

Review: THE SECRET CIRCLE, 1.1 – "Pilot"

Saturday, 17 September 2011
written by Andrew Miller (based on the novel by L.J Smith); directed by Liz Friedlander
starring Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Gale Harold, Shelley Henning & Phoebe Tonkin

I haven't read any of L.J Smith's novels, as I'm not the target age these days, and will never be the target gender. They strike me as bubblegum fantasy fiction for young girls that, despite being written about 20 years ago, are only now being adapted for television because of the success with Twilight and True Blood. The Vampire Diaries has been a big hit for The CW these past few years, so they're hoping to catch lightning twice by adapting Smith's lesser-known witch saga The Secret Circle as a companion piece. The pilot of which was competent but ineffectual, with wishy-washy characters and a concept that just didn't leap off the screen for me. Magic and witches are fun concepts to play with, but The Secret Circle doesn't offer anything that feels fresh or deserving of particular attention.

Cassie Blake (Britt Robertson) is the recently-orphaned teenage heroine of the show, whose mother died in a mysterious house fire—not so mysteriously started by a strange man called Charles Meade (Gale Harold) exhibiting pyrokinesis—who's therefore forced to move to the coastal town of Chance Harbor to stay with her grandmother Jane (Heroes' Ashley Crow). Very quickly she discovers that five of her new school friends have magical abilities, and are excited Cassie's moved to her mother's hometown because it means they can combine their powers (as progeny of the six bewitched local dynasties), and perform feats a little more impressive than levitating forest dew, starting small fires, or making it rain.

The Secret Circle doesn't have much to set it apart, beyond how so many of the characters are accepting of magic. Indeed, it seems the parents of the five children are attempting to keep a lid on these powers, and are rather fearful their kids may be "practicing". There could definitely be a fun little mystery for Cassie to explore, regarding the town's history, each family, her mother's past, and exactly why some people are so afraid (or glad) her friends have completed their "circle". It probably also helps that The Secret Circle has a trilogy of books to pull from, so three seasons of readymade structure and ideas are there to be dramatized and improved.

I think the main issue I have with The Secret Circle is how it didn't really thrill me. In fact, it continues to disappoint me how so many American shows, blessed with budgets that foreign networks would kill for (even cable-sized ones), keep creating episodes that look and feel so cozily familiar. There were times watching this when you could have been watching a dozen different shows, in terms of style, craft, dialogue and general plotting. It's a shame there's no real ambition at work here, as The Secret Circle is just content to charm young teenagers with pretty faces, a family-based mystery, and the promise of some fun/spooky magic. The characters don't offer much either, with Robertson being quite flat in the lead, and Thomas Dekker making little impression as her love interest Adam. The only slight sign of life was Phoebe Tonkin as "bad girl" witch Faye, who has a more selfish attitude when it comes to casting spells.

As with all pilots, it's too early to write-off the series, I just know it's probably not going to be for me—or any other men in their thirties—and it's really not designed to be. If you're 14-years-old, with less than a decade's memory of TV drama, The Secret Circle probably feels new, exciting, cool, unpredictable, and interesting. I just wish it was more remarkable to anyone who's seen this kind of thing many, many times before, and felt slightly more dangerous and creepy.

15 September 2011 / The CW