In case you haven’t heard (but you have, right?), The Vampire Diaries will have a new 9 p.m. partner this fall on the CW: The Secret Circle, based on L.J. Smith’s trilogy of the same name, adapted for the screen by Kevin Williamson (executive producer, The Vampire Diaries) and Andrew Miller (creator, Imaginary Bitches web series). Yep, an Alloy Entertainment/L.J. Smith/Kevin Williamson block on Thursday nights, which has us long-time fans of both series pinching ourselves and wondering what year it is. (The Secret Circle was originally published in 1992.)
The series stars Britt Robertson as Cassie (center) and (left to right) Thomas Dekker as Adam, Jessica Parker Kennedy as new (i.e.: non-book) character Melissa, Louis Hunter as Nick, Shelley Hennig as Diana, and Phoebe Tonkin as Faye.
The short version: We really, really liked The Secret Circle pilot.
NOTE: Yes, there are major changes from the books, but we think most fans are braced for that and we won’t dwell on the details here. (Tierney Bricker has an excellent breakdown if you’re curious about books vs. pilot. Please be aware that there have been changes to the pilot since the posting of the article.)
1. The pilot is GOOD.
Crissy: Most shows end up being better than their pilot episode — or at least that’s the hope. The pilot is the rough draft for the more nuanced and compelling season. With The Secret Circle, my hope is that the season maintains the degree of awesomeness in its pilot, living up to the promise of a double-whammy of kickass TV on the CW’s Thursday nights. While it does all the work it has to — we meet the characters, their world and conflicts, and it establishes the atmosphere, tone, and general direction plot-wise — the pilot still manages to be an awesome episode of TV, something that feels whole and manages to be scary as heck, romantic (more on that in a second), and sad. (Yes, so, maybe I teared up.) It doesn’t feel rushed but a lot goes down, and immediately the stakes are set high. There’s murder, dangerous games with powers not yet understood or controlled, secrets between generations, and enough of a hint of the town’s dark history to whet our appetites. Here’s hoping that once you’re in, there’s no way out.
2. Cassie and Adam have serious sparks.
Crissy: In the first Secret Circle book, The Initiation, Cassie and Adam meet and there are sparks. Translating that magnetism, which neither Cassie or Adam can explain, to our TV screens means Britt Robertson and Thomas Dekker need to have mad chemistry. And they do — they look at each other, you ship them. But what’s a CW show without a love triangle? Cassie and Adam can’t be together (at least not yet, I say hopefully…) and the tension between them only grows, particularly for Cassie whose confusion about their feelings is tied to her discovery of the witchiness of Chance Harbor. Troublemaker Faye suggestively says that they made magic together in the forest. And after watching that particularly romantic bit of witchcraft, I’m betting your response will be the same as ours: heck yes they did. More please!
Vee: I am not a person who gravitates to romance in my television, but the tension between Cassie and Adam is so palpable, you can’t help but actively and passionately root for them. And now I’m looking forward to loving Adam’s girlfriend Diana as much as I love Cassie and Adam, so the situation is even more worthy of winces and heart-clutches.
3. Intriguing and memorable characters? Check. Strong, complicated relationships? Check.
Crissy: Thanks to an excellently written pilot and a well-cast show, there are no duds on The Secret Circle. Fans of Elena Gilbert, prepare to embrace Cassie Blake. Britt Robertson’s Cassie feels true to the book character (she’s not Lux 2.0) and, in the same way that Nina Dobrev always makes crazy supernatural situations feel real, Britt plays Cassie’s discovery of her true powers, her family history, and the new-girl-in-a-strange-town-thing compellingly. In addition to Thomas Dekker’s Adam, other standouts include: Gale Harold as the awesomely scary Charles Meade; Phoebe Tonkin as Faye, who’s just this side of over-the-top in a Damon kind of way; and Adam Harrington as Ethan Conant (Adam’s dad) — he’s the Alaric of Chance Harbor, you guys (i.e., usually a few sheets to the wind). But what use are interesting characters without some twisted relationships between them? In The Secret Circle, you get the usual romance and friendship stuff as well as tensions within the newly complete circle, between the generations, within the older generation, and (likely) between the witchy townsfolk and the muggles.
4. Double, double, toil and…oh, crap, Gale Harold just blew up a house.
Vee: The Vampire Diaries pilot presented a rather generalized vampire-meets-girl premise (and slowly expanded the first major plot arc over the first half of Season 1), whereas The Secret Circle comes storming out of the gate in regards to plot and intrigue. It may just give Vampire Diaries a run for its money in the “breakneck pace” department, if its introductory 40-plus minutes are to be believed.
Kate: And one of the main things steering that intense plot is the complicated interwoven dynamics within and among the families of the Circle. Family drama is so much more exciting when the angsty teenagers can literally control the weather. Generations of potentially-deadly family secrets? Sign me up! (Related: there are an astonishing number of parents and grandparents around. And they’re at least semi-involved in their kids’ lives! Is this really the CW? Honestly, it’s rather refreshing.)
5. It has style in spades.
Vee: The show looks and feels witchy. That may sound silly to you right now but once the action lands in the Washington town of Chance Harbor, it’s easy to fall under the spell of old coastal houses, dewy forests, and silver skies. Where Vampire Diaries trades in amber light and deep shadows, The Secret Circle pilot practically shimmers. Liz Friedlander (who directed Vampire Diaries episodes Unpleasantville, Blood Brothers, and Rose) and Director of Photography Ramsey Nickell (who also did the Vampire Diaries pilot) do a remarkable job of capturing the lush, saturated beauty of the Pacific Northwest. (The show films in Vancouver, for the record.) And, just like The Vampire Diaries, there’s a cool overlap of vintage and modern, lending just enough of an otherworldly feel; Chance Harbor already feels like a fully realized town and I look forward to learning more about its secret pockets.
Kate: One of the things that makes the town feel real is the obligatory “place everyone goes to hang out.” Sure, these places sometimes give the impression that there’s literally only one restaurant in town, but I love them anyway. They’re a good way of both giving the audience a point of reference that feels like home and of providing a shortcut into the characters’ daily lives. This seaside restaurant/bar gets bonus points from me for reminding me of Duke’s place on Haven and even the Ice House on Dawson’s Creek.
Vee: And if you’re a fan of TVD Music Supervisor Chris Mollere, you’re going to love Liza Richardson‘s choices for Secret Circle. (She’s the former music supervisor for Friday Night Lights, which had some of the best music on TV, period.)
6. Get ready for a different brand of witchcraft.
Vee: The awesome set of posters (seriously, we’re so freakin’ jealous) and the penultimate scene of the pilot – Cassie and Adam in the woods, which is the centerpiece of the video promos – perfectly captures what I so desperately want from The Secret Circle: a representation of witchcraft that is based in Nature and the elements, not demons, angels, or other supernatural phenomena. The Vampire Diaries version of witchcraft is very old school-inspired and often very dark, so highlighting beauty and wonder (even if it’s amidst a whole lot of darkness) would be a welcome breath of fresh air/earth/fire/water and a nice contrast to TVD’s brand of witchy juju. The witchcraft(-lite) of The Secret Circle book series is tactile, with beach and bedroom ceremonies and characters often refer to stones, plants and herbs, oils, and salt water. This inherent connection to Nature permeates their lives, right down to preparing for a high school dance. It’s also very sexy at times. And as seriously as they take their powers, they have fun with them too – something poor Bonnie Bennett hasn’t had much time/cause for, given all Those Vampire Problems. Secret Circle executive producer Andrew Miller and actor Thomas Dekker have been referencing 1996 movie The Craft a lot in press, which is one of my personal guilty pleasure movies. While I hope they take inspiration from the film’s eclectic hodgepodge of traditions to create their own unique take of on-screen witchcraft, I also hope they’ll succeed where The Craft ultimately failed: Staying true to the characters and not sacrificing them at the altar of flashy, histrionic spellwork. (Not that we don’t want flashy spellwork!) Oh, and fingers crossed we’ll never hear the word “warlock.” Men can be witches, too! (Oh, can they.)
The Secret Circle premieres Thursday, September 15th at 9 p.m., immediately following the Season 3 premiere of The Vampire Diaries. Worried you won’t be as into witches as you are vampires? Give it a chance. We think you’ll be surprised at how bad ass and compelling witches can be – and an entire coven of them? Get ready for your new Thursday night appointment viewing.
Follow the cast and showrunners on Twitter:
@RealBritt_Rob (Britt Robertson)
@TheThomasDekker (Thomas Dekker)
@shelleyhennig (Shelley Hennig)
@PhoebeJTonkin1 (Phoebe Tonkin)
@LouisHunter1 (Louis Hunter)
@MillerLoLife (Andrew Miller)
@kevwilliamson (Kevin Williamson)
Find more cast and crew on @secret_circle’s Twitter list.
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