by Ryan J. Downey
Ever heard the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Coldplay sounds a lot like U2 or maybe Radiohead at times, but they're still freaking Coldplay, right? The more the merrier! We love "The Vampire Diaries" formula. So let's get "The Vampire Diaries" similarities out of the way.
"The Secret Circle" is based on books by L.J. Smith. It's executive produced by "Scream" and "Dawson's Creek" mastermind Kevin Williamson. It takes place in a small town steeped in the supernatural with a hidden history dating back to the 1800s. Attractive teens try to fit in at high school while grappling with family tragedy and new-found superpowers. There's a big, delicious love triangle that looks to figure prominently in the show's serialized storytelling.
You know the Mystic Grill restaurant where the people on that other show often congregate? "The Secret Circle" has a local hangout where several conversations take place in the pilot: the Boathouse Grill.
But this isn't a spin-off in the way the original "Melrose Place" crossed over with "Beverly Hills, 90210." Kevin is actively working to build a separate and potentially equally captivating mythology over in Chance Harbor, which bares a fun resemblance to the setting for "I Know What You Did Last Summer," which Kevin wrote after breaking big with "Scream." The pilot is straightforward but ambitious.
We meet 16-year-old Cassie Blake (Britt Robertson from "Life Unexpected") right away just minutes before her mother is killed by Charles Meade (Gale Harold), a compelling villain who actually looks a bit like a handsome combination of Elijah (Daniel Gillies) from "TVD" and Williamson himself. Cassie heads 1,000 miles to live with her grandmother in Chance Harbor, where bizarrely everybody seems to know her.
"This town is a frickin' sideshow," Cassie declares at one point. Wouldn't you? Maybe it was the drunk guy who kept talking to her about her destiny and all of the local families' fates being written in the stars. Or maybe it was her car spontaneously locking all of its doors and catching fire with her trapped inside.
Thomas Dekker, whose portrayal of John Connor on the similarly mythology heavy Terminator television series "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" was one of that show's many strengths, plays Adam Conant. He gives Cassie some intense glares from across the hallway on her first day of school. "The Secret Circle" will keep Thomas in the hearts and minds of genre convention goers for several more years, we bet.
It's the same hallway where resident bad girl and complete scene stealer Faye Chamberlain (Phoebe Tonkin) first makes her presence known. Phoebe has breakout star written all over her. She's reminiscent of Fairuza Balk in the teen witch classic "The Craft" with all of her witchy lust for unbridled power.
We learn that Cassie is the missing link for (wait for it) "the secret circle" of witches made up of a group of teens whose parents formed a similar but since abolished (something about some people dying) circle. You see, each kid can pull off a few parlor tricks on their own (start a small fire, unlock a door), but united as a group with their newly arrived key ingredient, they can conjure an entire thunderstorm (literally).
Cooler heads within the group want to ease Cassie into things. Faye just blurts it out.
"You're a witch!" she says. "You're a full blooded, hundred percent witch. We all are."
There's an exposition heavy scene where the circle gathers and explains many things to Cassie (and simultaneously to us at home) while hinting at deeper layers of mystery season one is likely to unravel.
Adam has a girlfriend within the circle already, Diana (played by Shelley Hennig), but his connection to Cassie is intense and immediate. They nearly share a kiss during the pilot's most visually stunning moment as they hold hands and levitate raindrops in a "Twilight"-esque powwow in the woods.
Most of the parents are up to something, too, particularly Faye's mother (who happens to be the high school principal and pretends to be friendly with grandma) and her pal Charles.
In the series opener's closing scenes, we learn that Charles murdered Cassie's mom precisely to put events in motion that would put Cassie in Chance Harbor for sinister purposes unknown.
And as she's looking up at the magical glow in the dark stars in her mom's old room at grandma's, a "Gilbert journals"-esque book reveals itself to Cassie containing a letter from her departed mom that basically says (paraphrasing here): "If you're reading this, some ish is about to hit the fan."
"And I'm sorry I never told you about the whole witch stuff."
With the premise now firmly established, a love triangle to obsess over, villains of the obvious and ambiguous variety in place and several mysteries to unravel, we'll be watching with enthusiasm (driven by the years of goodwill built up by so many excellent Kevin Williamson projects) as "The Secret Circle" unfolds.
What did you think about last night's "Secret Circle" premiere? Sound off in the comments and on Twitter!