Over the weekend, we had a chance to see the pilot for Secret Circle, a teen sorcery show coming this fall from Kevin Williamson, creator of Vampire Diaries and Dawson's Creek. It's hard to deny the lure of a show whose pilot features teenage girls magically lighting cars on fire. But is it just too cheesy to stand the test?
The pilot set a pretty dark tone by showing us the mysterious and genuinely disturbing death of main character Cassie Blake's (Britt Robertson) mother. While Cassie is out, a creepy guy in a trenchcoat starts doing a peeping tom routine on her mom as she cooks dinner. It turns out that he's actually casting a spell that makes parts of the kitchen light on fire, ending her mother's life horrifically as he watches through the window. Cut to a month later, and the still-shellshocked Cassie is moving in with her grandmother back in the small town her mother left years ago.
This is when it becomes abundantly clear that everyone in the town knows Cassie. And her mother. And they're all ultra-weird about it. Though it's less "tension-filled, dark secret hiding" weird and more "someone call Chris Hansen at Dateline NBC" weird. In school, Cassie meets Faye Chamberlain (Phoebe Tonkin), "the resident bad girl" and Diana Meade (Shelley Hennig), who is more of a rule-abiding girl. All of them go a little The Craft on her, making oddly loaded comments and doing witchy stuff like opening stuck locker doors while Cassie looks on in confusion. And then there's the firestarting. After school at the local Dawson's Creek-esque diner on the waterfront, Faye sets Cassie's car on fire, nearly killing her.
Though there's some effort to keep Cassie in the dark about what the hell is going on, this show moves at the speed of gossip. Before you know it, Diana is dragging Cassie out to a conveniently shabby chic ruined house in the woods, introducing her to the rest of the "circle." It turns out that each teen in the group comes from one of the town's six families needed to "complete the circle" and give them greater power and more control over it. Each family also has a book of spells, which will no doubt come into play later in the series.
There's some obligatory magical flirting (involving sparkly floating raindrops) between Cassie and Adam Conant (Thomas Dekker), who is both Diana's boyfriend and the son of a drunk restaurant owner who likes to talk to Cassie about how much he loved her mother. Apparently he and Cassie's mother were "destined" for each other, just as Cassie is destined for Adam. Cassie runs from everyone, calling them crazy, but thankfully the denial portion of her reaction takes like 30 seconds. When newly-superpowered Faye calls up a thunderstorm she can't stop, Cassie uses her power to help. Still, she doesn't want to be a witch and flounces home to stare at her magical ceiling and cry.
That's when she uncovers her family's spell book, complete with a letter from her mother that tells her that she has great power and people will come for it.
At the end of the pilot, what we know is that Diana's father killed Cassie's mother to bring Cassie to the town to complete the circle. He's also working with Faye's mother for some purpose that is not revealed. We also know that all the parents of the current circle were members of a previous circle, but something went wrong and ended with a bunch of them dead.
The whole pilot had a sort of The Craft meets Charmed vibe (the house Cassie and her grandmother live in is a dead ringer for the house of the Halliwell sisters from that show). While the mystery involving the parents is the most intriguing part of the pilot, there's a lot of clunkiness too. This is a crazy, gothic tangle but it promises a rich tapestry to work with. It's great to see the parents doing outright evil things, and watching how their kids respond. How much are the teens and parents in league together? Whose alliances will shift? Like Vampire Diaries, the show has set a fast pace for itself, which means that we can hope the crazy twists will outrun the cheese factor.
In a Q&A session at Comic-Con, executive producer Andrew Miller addressed the mystery of the parents, saying that it "will unfold over the course of the season" and that "the parents have a lot cooked up" for the kids and the kids will fight back. Finally, Kevin Williamson answered the question about the relationship between The Secret Circle and The Vampire Diaries , since they are both based off of book series by the same author. According to him, they are "two different worlds" that "don't intersect." But Williamson did promise that it was a show that fans of The Vampire Diaries would enjoy.