September 16, 2011

TV: The Secret Circle (CW, Thu 9)

I didn't expect to like The Secret Circle; it seemed like a pretty cynical ploy to replicate the success of The Vampire Diaries, which it follows on the CW schedule. Both shows are based on books by the same authors; both are about pretty teens caught up in the supernatural; The Secret Circle just replaces vampires with witches. But much to my surprise, the show is a surprisingly entertaining bit of cheesy fun.

Britt Robertson stars as Cassie, who moves to a small Washington town to live with her grandmother after her mother's death. (Grandma is played by Ashley Crow, who in two years has gone from playing the cheerleader's mother on Heroes to playing the grandmother of a girl the same age.) Strange things seem to be going on around her, and finally she is approached by a group of five local students who explain that she is a witch, as are they.

There are, it seems, six witch families in town, and when a member of each comes together, the circle has more power than any one of them could muster individually; Cassie is the sixth member of this generation's circle. They have to keep the circle a secret, because something went horribly wrong with their parents' circle 16 years ago, and several members of the group were killed, possibly at the hands of the survivors; as a result, the families have banned witchcraft. But those surviving parents aren't going along with the ban, and they have mysterious plans for the new circle, and for Cassie in particular.

It's usually the case in a show like that the bad guys are the most fun, and that's certainly true here. Phoebe Tonkin steals the show as Faye, the power-hungry bad girl in Cassie's circle; Gale Harold and Natasha Henstridge are the survivors of the parental circle, and both clearly relish getting to play over-the-top gleeful evil.

But the good guy characters are well cast, too. As Cassie, Robertson is wounded and vulnerable, and it should be great fun to watch her discovering her power. Thomas Dekker and Shelley Hennig are likable as Adam and Diana, the (so far) nicest members of the circle.

This is not a sophisticated show; it's another teen soap opera at heart -- Eastwick 90210, or Footloose with witchcraft in place of dancing. But the pilot sets just the right tone of slightly campy, slightly oversincere melodrama, and I had a lot of fun watching it.

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