The fall TV season is underway and, despite the ever-lower numbers of women in the writers’ rooms, it’s being hailed as the year of the women: 17 out of the 25 new scripted shows on the Big Five networks are female-centered and many were created by women. In this series, comedian Leila Cohan-Miccio watches the new female-centered shows and evaluates how realistic their portrayals of women actually are. Today, the newest Kevin Williamson (of The Vampire Diaries or Dawson’s Creek fame , depending on how old you are) production, The Secret Circle.
As a full-grown adult who doesn’t especially love either Twilight or True Blood, I am not exactly the target audience for The Secret Circle, a new show about sexy teenage witches. To my fellow old people, however, I can report that it’s basically The Craft, but with dudes in the coven and without Goth fashions or wit.
Sixteen year old Cassie (next-generation Hayden Pannettiere, Brittany Robertson) goes to live with her grandma in hilariously-named town Chance Harbor when her mom (who, PS, looks like she is a maximum of 30 years old, as do all the parents on this show) is killed in what Cassie thinks is an accidental fire, but is really witchcraft performed by adult male witch Charles Meade. Cassie is quickly befriended by a group of teens, but they have a secret – they’re all witches (runs in the families) and they’ve been waiting for Cassie to show up to complete their circle and intensify their power. More complications: Charles is the father of circle member Diana and Cassie and Diana’s boyfriend Adam have some serious chemistry.
All this has the makings of a fun show – soapy teenage drama plus magic is a well-worn formula because it works – but the execution is tragically pro-forma. Characters drop exposition in the clunkiest possible ways (“Our ancestry is part of a legacy that dates back as far as 1692.”) and supposedly heartfelt dialogue isn’t much better (“Our families are written in the stars!”). For a show that depends a lot on visible magic, the special effects are noticeably cheap-looking, and the direction is frequently baffling – during one scene taking place at what I wish was called the Chance Harbor School of Witchcraft and Bitchery, several characters in a row just drop by Cassie’s locker, deliver exposition, and move on.
Female characters in The Secret Circle are cliche for sure – Cassie is a total Mary Sue, Diana is good, Faye is bad – but the male characters, from evil witch Charles to alcoholic Ethan, Adam’s father who still pines for Cassie’s mother – aren’t much better. Like Ringer, The Secret Circle has the potential to carry on the legacy of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and, like Ringer, The Secret Circle doesn’t quite figure it out.