When I was about 13, I came upon a trilogy of young adult paranormal romance novels featuring a plainish girl starting her life anew in a small town only to discover a life filled with magic and forbidden love. To distinguish this from a newer young adult series I could mention, this one involved a centuries-old coven of witches instead of sparkly vampires, and it did not become an international phenomenon adapted into poorly-acted blockbuster movies. Instead, it hung out in relative obscurity on the YA shelf until The CW optioned it for a series that airs on Thursdays at 9, almost 20 years after the first book was published.
The Secret Circle was my jam. Having spent a childhood reading classics and the occasional Baby-sitters’ Club novel, The Secret Circle was alluring for its themes of witchcraft and the hot teenage sexual tension that comes from having strong (mutual) feelings for your best friend’s boyfriend. I loved these books, read them over and over, yet amongst my friends who grew up bookish and socially awkward, I’d never found a single one for whom this series rang any bells. So when I saw an ad by chance last night for a show called The Secret Circle, I had kind of a freak-out. “What? Could it be that… *Googles* OMG. OMG!!! SQUEEEEEEE!” I shouldn’t have been so surprised—CW has already adapted another series by author LJ Smith: The Vampire Diaries. Still, my excitement was a little like that of a 12-year-old girl who finds out her favorite books are becoming a TV show.
The boyfriend kinda side-eyed me while I giddily explained that this new CW series is based on the book trilogy that was basically Twilight for 12-year-old me, and as he reacted with absolutely zero interest, I plugged my headphones into my laptop and immediately devoured the pilot, which originally aired September 15. And while it was in many ways very, very different from my beloved series, I have to say the show starts promisingly.
Cassie Blake moves to the fictitious Chance Harbor, Washington after her mom dies in a fire that appears to have had suspicious circumstances. When she gets there, she gets an excessive amount of attention from everyone she meets. Each local seems to already know who she is and what happened to her mom. At the risk of spoiling absolutely nothing, it turns out Cassie’s family is one of several in a centuries-old coven of witches with great power, particularly if the circle is intact. It also turns out that the boy with whom she has an immediate and strong attraction is coven leader Diana’s boyfriend.
Among the most significant changes from the book are the setting (the books take place in New Salem, Massachusetts) the number of members of the circle (six instead of the dozen in the book), and the appearances of the characters. Cassie looks a bit too much like Elisha Cuthbert to be called plain, and the characters of Diana and Faye are less light vs. dark/good vs. evil in appearance and demeanor. In fact, while in the books Diana is portrayed almost like some goddess of light, in the CW series, there’s actually a bit more nuance and room for interpretation of or speculation about people’s motives and intentions. There is also a more present adult cast (including Species star Natasha Henstridge) to the TV adaptation that adds an interesting layer.
While some things about the series don’t make sense to me (like how is this 450-year-old coven of six pure-bred witches not hopelessly mutated and slack-jawed from the centuries of incest that would have been required to keep their blood pure? And if the coven started in the 1600s, how did you all end up in what appears to be the Olympic peninsula of Washington?), I nevertheless found it promising and compelling, and I look forward to catching up on the other two episodes that have aired. The CW has a pretty great track record for quality genre dramas that are aimed at the teenage set but play just as well to the sensibilities of geeks of an older persuasion. (For example, our Palinode—whose opinion I hold in high regard—will not shut up about Nikita and Vampire Diaries, and who could forget the teen noir detective series Veronica Mars?)
If you have older kids (say, maybe 9 or 10 and up), it should definitely be safe for them to watch. There wasn’t any sex in the books or the pilot (though they were each way sexy in that chaste, 13-year-old way), and while there is some mild violence and a pretty scary scene in the beginning, I don’t think it would bring on any nightmares unless your younguns are particularly skittish. If you have much younger kids (or none at all), but you like shows like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, you should definitely check it out—the first three episodes are on CW.com.