The Secret Circle

TV Series Review

Cassie Blake is a real witch.

I'm not just being mean. She really is a witch. She's proud of it, in fact. She'd brag about it if she could … only, she and her circle of witch friends are sorta—well, secret.

Apparently, being a witch is a family tradition. Her mother's a witch—or was, until she died in a horrific fire. Her grandmother's a witch, and now serves as Cassie's guardian in the quaint-but-mysterious town of Chance Harbor, Wash. One suspects that, when the extended Blake clan gets together, all dinners are cooked by cauldron and all dishes are cleaned by walking brooms.

But Cassie has no time to dilly-dally at family get-togethers. She's quite busy hanging with her witchy pals, creating something of an occult clique: Instead of going to high school football games or playing LittleBigPlanet, these kids spend their free time casting spells, lighting candles and fighting demons.

Oh, and having sex. Let's not forget that. These high schoolers have no moral qualms at all about sleeping with one another, and the CW has no qualms about showing as much as the censors will allow. Passionate make-out sessions, often featuring teen characters in a state of partial undress, seems to be a standard feature of The Secret Circle, as the narrative offers a hint of homosexuality here or an allusion to other risqué sexual escapades there.

We can assume that Cassie and her friends—queen bee Diana, mean girl Faye, sycophantic Melissa and Diana's beau Adam (who, naturally, also has a thing for Cassie)—do find time to go to class, though we rarely see them there. And they have home lives, too, though parents provide about as much familial guidance as mammy and pappy rattlesnakes.

Indeed, some of the parents in The Secret Circle are not just disengaged from their children (not uncommon for CW's teen-centric shows), they're out-and-out malevolent. While Cassie's mother did her best to protect her daughter from her own witchcrafty past (and might've gotten herself killed as a result), Diana's father (Charles Meade) and Faye's mother (Dawn Chamberlain, the high school principal) are both witches who've lost most of their powers by verdict of the "Elders"—apparently folks who punish witches for abusing their abilities. But these adults are undaunted, and now hope to use their kids' juvenile dabbling to somehow recharge their own magical stores.

As you can see, The Secret Circle (based on a teen lit series written by L.J. Smith) has issues. But it's not entirely bad. Between spells, Cassie and her grandmother, Jane, model some pretty decent family dynamics. Jane encourages Cassie to trust her and allow her to dispense grandmotherly advice now and then. She wants to be a safe harbor in Cassie's stormy life.

"There's nothing you can't talk to me about," Jane tells her. "You know that, right?"

And Cassie, to her credit, accepts her grandmother's help. Thus, the series shows viewers that a healthy family isn't magic: It's a process constantly being built and replenished through nothing more mystical than trust and love. Moreover, Jane stresses to Cassie that magic can be, frankly, more trouble than it's worth.

"It's dangerous," she says. "And it attracts darkness."

True enough. The magic here feels more medieval than that of Harry Potter, more malignant than you'll find in The Lord of the Rings. There's still a naturalistic component to it—these teens are apparently imbued with special spell-casting genes—but the spells themselves feel overtly occult-like, stocked with special ingredients and overlaid with incantations. They're often cast through the coven, rather than individually, making this form of witchcraft seem more native to Salem than Hogwarts.

That sounds serious. But this show isn't. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about a century ago it seems, used horror tropes and occult trappings as metaphors to explore the mysterious, frightening world of high school. In the hands of Dawson's Creek and  Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, The Secret Circle has no such pretensions. It is superficial. It is shallow. It is about hormonal teenage witches. 'Nuff said.

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Episode Reviews

SecretCircle: 10132011



Readability Age Range


Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy



Britt Robertson as Cassie Blake; Thomas Dekker as Adam; Shelley Hennig as Diana Meade; Phoebe Tonkin as Faye Chamberlain; Jessica Parker Kennedy as Melissa Glaser; Gale Harold as Charles Meade; Natasha Henstridge as Dawn Chamberlain; Ashley Crow as Jane Blake






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Paul Asay

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