TV Review: The CW’s ‘The Secret Circle’ Fails to Cast a Spell

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CHICAGO – Audiences are too smart for “The Secret Circle.” Sure, they bought in when The CW presented “The Vampire Diaries” on the heels of the “Twilight” phenomenon but that is a fast-paced, sexy, and sometimes-clever show. You can hook them by piggybacking on a trend, but then you better have some meat on the hook. There’s no meat in “The Secret Circle,” the struggling network’s least-likely shot at a new hit. TV Rating: 1.5/5.0
TV Rating: 1.5/5.0

The pitch for “The Secret Circle” is so blatant — “It’s The Vampire Diaries with witches!” It’s yet another program that suggests that there are extra-special people hidden behind the picket fences in the small towns you speed by on the interstate. It’s yet another genre piece from Kevin Williamson (“Scream,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “The Vampire Diaries”). And it’s yet another show that turns the typical problems of the teenager — love, popularity, cliques — into something supernatural. We’ve seen it all before and we’ve seen it done significantly better. The most significant problem with “The Secret Circle” is not that it’s a copy but that it’s a severely-faded one.

The Secret Circle
The Secret Circle
Photo credit: The CW

The best thing about the show is the casting of Britt Robertson, the engaging lead from the network’s canceled “Life Unexpected.” One hopes the cancellation axe falls quickly here and that this young actress can move on to something more suited to her charm. Robertson plays Cassie Blake, a happy teenager who suffers a horrible blow in the opening scene when her mother is murdered by someone who clearly possessed magical powers. Everyone believes the fire that killed Cassie’s mom was an accident, but we know better. Someone wanted her dead.

The Secret Circle
The Secret Circle
Photo credit: The CW

Cassie moves back to her family’s hometown of Chance Harbor, Washington (which looks like the setting for every CW show, most of which shoot in Canada anyway), and discovers secrets from her past. It turns out that her parents were a part of a group of powerful witches and warlocks and their children must continue the legacy — they are “The Secret Circle”. This group includes the sweet Diana (Shelley Hennig), mean girl Faye (Phoebe Tonkin), sidekick Melissa (Jessica Parker Kennedy), stoic Nick (Louis Hunter), and love interest Adam (Thomas Dekker of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”). Of course, there’s drama with the ‘rents too as Adam’s father Ethan (Adam Harrington) has a history with Cassie’s family.

A beautiful cast like “Dawson’s Creek,” supernatural powers like “The Vampire Diaries,” the same look as a dozen other CW shows — there rarely been a program more derivative of other series on the same network than “The Secret Circle.” And it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the fact that it reminds one of better shows wasn’t pretty much the only interesting thing about it. The writing here is simply dull with not nearly enough humor and none of the dark edge of “TVD.” It’s the last thing that a show about teenage witches should ever be — boring.

As mentioned, Robertson does her best to be an engaging lead but Dekker has never been an interesting one (he was the weakest thing about “Terminator”) and too many of the faces here start to blend together. It’s easy to see Tonkin as the unstable Faye and Kennedy as the conflicted Melissa break out if, somehow, “The Secret Circle” becomes a hit. Perhaps CW viewers will simply double their teenage-supernatural fun on Thursday nights and go with this show as they have with “The Vampire Diaries.” I hope that doesn’t happen. Viewers deserve better than this pale imitation.

“The Secret Circle” stars Britt Robertson, Shelley Hennig, Phoebe Tonkin, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Louis Hunter, and Thomas Dekker. It was created by Kevin Williamson. It debuts on The CW on Thursday, September 15th, 2011 at 9pm CST. content director Brian Tallerico

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