On paper, THE SECRET CIRCLE seemed to have everything going for it. It was a ready-made companion piece to CW’s one big hit The Vampire Diaries–produced by Vampire‘s Kevin Williamson, based on another series of books by Vampire author L.J. Smith. The ensemble cast was led by Britt Robetrson, previously the personable star of CW’s Life Unexpected. What could go wrong?
Just enough, as the show was canceled this afternoon, not such a surprise since it had been recently garnering less than half the rating Vampire had as its lead-in. The show wasn’t terrible, it’s just never managed to be all that interesting.
Part of the problem was the nature of the storyline. While Vampire Diaries is technically a “high school” show, many of its characters are centuries old, which allows them some sophistication and deviousness that’s helpful for plotting and dialogue purposes. The coven of witches that populated Circle was meant to be 16 years old, and they were a pretty callow group.
Andrew Newman, the showrunner of Circle, also tended to telegraph his narrative punches far in advance, unlike Julie Plec, whose Vampire storylines often feature sudden and unexpected surprises. Circle told us from near the start of the season that Cassie Blake (Robertson)’s father John Blackwell (Joe Lando) was a bad guy, then when he showed up the show wasted episodes trying unconvincingly to make us think he’d really been misjudged, only to decide that yeah, he was the season’s Big Bad after all.
Last night’s finale, which turned out to be for the series, written by Newman and Executive Producer Andrea Newman, and directed by Dave Barrett, tied up the season’s major storylines. In one, a witch-hunter possessed by multiple evil spirits attempted to kill a couple of the witches, including Faye (Phoebe Tonkin)–they were rescued when Charles (Gale Harold), father of fellow coven-member Diana (Shelley Hennig) seemed to sacrifice himself by allowing the demons to possess him instead, although a later scene showed him surviving, presumably to cause trouble if there’d been a Season 2.
In the other story, we finally found out what Blackwell had been up to all this time: he was using the power of a crystal skull (which he’d spent many episodes manipulating the coven into assembling) to kill any witch not of his bloodline, while summoning a super-coven of his own children, who it turned out included Diana as well as Cassie. (Long story.) Blackwell was–seemingly–vanquished, but not before his other 4 presumably evil children showed up, also for busted Season 2 purposes.
It took “dark magic” to get rid of Blackwell, and that brought the show to another of its problems. While Britt Robertson was fine in the early part of the season, when she was a naive girl discovering she had had witchy powers, she proved to be less than convincing as the dark sorceress later episodes required her to be. Combine this with the show’s frustrating, seemingly random shifting of how various witches would gain and lose their powers from episode to episode, and it was all neither frightening nor exciting.
The soap plots didn’t add much either, with a howler of a forgetfulness spell placed on Cassie (on whom it didn’t work, because of that dark magic) and hunk Adam (Thomas Dekker), so they wouldn’t know they were in love. Other characters like Faye, Diana and Melissa (Jessica Parker Kennedy) passed from one guest star to another.
The Secret Circle wasn’t as awful as its fellow cancelee Ringer, but it was wasting the network’s best lead-in with little return. Without that lead-in, the show would have required dark magic indeed to find success.