The power of The Secret Circle

This teen urban fantasy (suburban, really) series has some surprising moments, but it’s still basically for teens.

The Secret Circle, based loosely on the book of the same name, started off slow on CW this fall, but has deepened and picked up significantly since the original pilot.

The plot is pretty basic: a young woman loses her mother and is left to stay with her grandmother in her family’s home town, a place her mother ran away from years ago for mysterious reasons.

When she gets there, she discovers that she is the long-awaited sixth member of a circle of witches.

Like nearly every other show this season, they’re trying for a ‘big mystery’, so they’ve generated a lot of backstreet for the town and its inhabitants, especially the parents of the protagonist circle, who had their powers stripped from them by a mysterious witchcraft oversight committee. 

The mystery thus far has been about trying to discover just what happened on ‘that night’ long ago without revealing the new coven – since witchcraft has been banned from the town as a result of that same event. 

The obvious danger of a show like this is that the writers would be tempted to pen a teenage drama and ignore the complex setting. Fortunately, this has not yet happened to The Secret Circle, and doesn’t seems like it will. 

Yes, there is the topical teem drama stuff, and, at times, even some goofy melodrama, meaning, don’t expect the awkward breakups and make-ups to stop anytime soon.

Still, even the characters themselves seem to understand, for the most part, that everything is trivial compared to the actual danger their lives are in – which the show has no trouble making real.

We’re only on the seventh episode and one of the teens has already been killed by dark forces in the town.

The casting of the show may be its strongest point. The kids are mostly newcomers, though I’ve seen them in bit-parts and as extras in other shows before, but they certainly brought in some real talent for many of the major adult characters.

Particularly impressive is Ashley Crow (Sandra Bennett from Heroes) as the protagonist’s grandmother and the show’s main source of moral guidance and canon exposition. She brings a presence to the character which the director could have chosen to ignore.

Almost as good is Natasha Henstridge, who plays well the conflicted mother of one of the circle members. She cares about the children, but they represent the only way for her to get her power back, and she’s willing to do almost anything to make that happen.

The show might be a bit glossy on the surface, as the melodrama typical to teen shows turns away most serious fantasy fans, but the show has its moments, and if you can look past the ‘we’re all so young and awkward’ moments in the story, it’s worth checking out, just for the detailed world-building. At least it’s not vampires again.

The Secret Circle airs on The CW Thursday nights.