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Review #3014: The Secret Circle 1.1: “Pilot”

Posted on the 19 September 2011 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Much like “The Vampire Diaries”, it’s hard to know if the pilot episode is going to be indicative of the quality of the series as a whole. “The Vampire Diaries” reminded me of an important lesson in television watching: pilots tend to suck, early episodes are usually a proving ground, and a little patience can reap great rewards. “The Vampire Diaries” went from a dreary “Twilight” clone to something far superior in the space of about five episodes. So the question is: can “The Secret Circle” pull off the same trick?

Review #3014: The Secret Circle 1.1: “Pilot”

Granted, this series does not really have anything quite as culturally recognizable (and divisive) as “Twilight” to draw in an audience. What it does have is precisely the same production pedigree and literary source as its lead-in. Both may have given people (especially mainstream critics) the impression that the show would be fast-paced and inventive right from the start. This series premiere, however, is a reminder that every story has to start somewhere, and very often, with a massive exposition dump.

In essence, cute orphan Cassie comes to town after her mother is killed, only to find that everyone in Chance Harbor already knows who she is and what happened. Cassie discovers that she is, in fact, the latest in a family line of witches. More than that, there are six original families, and when the current generation gets together in their “secret circle” coven, it means a lot of really interesting things can happen. And of course, there are remnants of the former generation that want to use the new circle, or eliminate them.

The premiere is all about setting that up, along with the basic character dynamics. Cassie is the fish out of water, but predictably, the apparent lynchpin of the circle. Faye is the requisite “bad girl”, but in a fun way (I like her already). Adam is the destined love interest, so of course he’s dating another member of the circle already. It’s all very cozy and a little bit predictable.

The fun part is the establishment of the generational cycle, and the conflict at the heart of it. It’s nothing new, since what comes to mind is a watered-down combination of the generational elements of “Harry Potter” and “Watchmen”. But like “The Vampire Diaries”, it quickly assures that this is not just about the fresh-faced, sexy teens; there are layers to be explored, even if they are familiar ones.

It’s that sense of deep familiarity that “The Secret Circle” is going to have to overcome. And like its sister show, “The Secret Circle” is slightly hobbled by a relatively bland central character. Elena/Stefan was never the central draw to the show; if it wasn’t for Damon (and later, Katherine), “The Vampire Diaries” would never have gained the following it did. Similarly, “The Secret Circle” needs a character with the same dangerous qualities. It feels like they started trying that with Faye, but it felt a bit forced this early in the game.

The good thing to take away from the pilot is that it set up the basics of the story and the characters well enough that they should be able to move forward with minimal retreading. The dreary exposition should be pretty much over and done with, and the writers can dig into the meat of the premise. So while this was fairly average on its own, there’s plenty of potential going forward.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 1/4

Final Rating: 7/10

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