Monday, March 14, 2011

Pilot Script Review - Secret Circle

Network: CW
Written By: Andrew Miller
Draft Date: February 3, 2011
Pages: 54

Two years ago, I reviewed a little show called The Vampire Diaries. In that review, I called it, among other things, boilerplate and Twi-light.

I completely stand behind those opinions of the pilot episode of The Vampire Diaries.

But something happened to that show that started after episode 3 or 4... it got damn good. It shed any Twilight trappings, built a still-deepening and engrossing mythology, and the supporting cast came into their own and really started standing out (I mean, who isn't in love with Caroline and Matt? And Caroline just in general). It is currently my favorite network TV drama (yeah, that's right, The Good Wife).

So, keep that in mind as I complain about this draft of Secret Circle, the new CW pilot based on another LJ Smith book series (and another series that I have not read, so I have no preconceived notions). I'm actually not sure if this "Andrew Miller draft" has been touched by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, who only boarded the project recently.

I want to like this because, like The Vampire Diaries, it has a lot of the things I love in a TV show. Teen romance (shut up, I'm a product of the 90s), supernatural forces, tragic pasts, and a core of real human emotion.

Secret Circle has all those elements. I just don't think that it's doing everything it can do with them. Yet. Thanks to what TVD became, I'm willing to give this series a LOT of room to grow on me.

But there is a nagging feeling I have that says this show can't be what TVD became.

Not because magic and witches and covens aren't as "sexy" as vampires. Not because TVD already features a witch. The magic works on a similar principle in Secret Circle as Bonnie's in TVD... minus some of the limitations. I think that's part of what's different. It's so important in shows with supernatural elements to make sure the audience knows "the rules." Y'know, like "Vampires can't walk in the sun without magic rings" or "Into every generation a Chosen One is born with the strength and skill to fight the Vampires. She is the Slayer."

Every series is allowed its own set of rules, and you either buy into them or you don't. The pilot is the opportunity to explain those rules (ideally in a way that doesn't just feel like exposition).

Secret Circle hasn't really explained the rules yet. It has given vague hints.

The other problem? Basically everyone in the script seems to have "powers." There aren't a terribly high number of "normal" people. How much drama has TVD gotten out of bringing character after character into the supernatural fold? And even there... many of the characters are "aware" of the supernatural, but are, themselves, normal and human and powerless (something that True Blood almost got rid of entirely in its third season, where I think Jason and Andy are the only two human people left in Bon Temps... yes, it's hyperbole, whatever).

There's also a minor romantic triangle between three of the kids in the coven, but it's very under the surface.

Okay. Secret Circle. Here's the plot (minus one major event that I'm choosing to not spoil).






Cassie Blake lives in Florida and is driving home when she suddenly gets a flat. Which is a good thing because, back home, there is an eerily beautiful shadowy man causing magical fire explosions (standing outside and using matches to light giant fire plumes inside) in her house and killing her mother, Amelia, in the process.

A month later, Cassie arrives at her grandmother's house in New Salem, Maine and is to start school the next day. Not sure what took her so long or, since her house burned down, where she got all "her belongings" but whatever, that's entirely besides the point. Cassie finds a pendant of her mother's and puts it on (given how important "magical artifacts" became to TVD, one must suspect that this pendant has more than just emotional significance).

Cassie goes to school, meets the Vice Principal (who was one of her mother's close friends, though we are pointedly told several times that Amelia never talked about her life in New Salem... and even claimed to not know who Cassie's father is), then is given a quick, terse guide through the school by Sally Waltman, who turns out to be the only "normal" teenager in the entire town (okay, no, just in the script). "The cliques are pretty standard," we're told.

Weird stuff keeps happening, like Cassie being unable to open her locker until Faye (the Vice Principal's daughter) and Melissa, the school's popular bitches, arrive. Like magic! Cassie also meets Diana in a class. Diana is described as smart and sexy (as usual, half the characters are described as sexy, so you know it's a CW script... because otherwise they might let an unsexy person slip through the casting process?) Diana lives two doors down and says she's been excited about meeting Cassie. And a bunch of other things that are REALLY WEIRD AND UNNATURAL AND CLUNKY DIALOG OH GOD, PLEASE SOMEONE POINT IT OUT HOW WEIRD THIS STUFF ALL IS!

Anyway, Diana invites Cassie to the Mystic Bar & Grill Marina's Boathouse Bar & Grill to meet people that night. Cassie is apparently a girl of quick temperament changes because I swear to god, she's put at ease and made uneasy about five times in two pages. She leaves, but her car won't start and then it catches fire and the doors won't unlock. Faye is testing her, seeing if Cassie has powers. She either doesn't or doesn't know how to use them, as Adam, Diana's boyfriend, has to save Cassie from the car. The fire mysteriously dies. Cassie, rattled, gets driven home and hums herself to sleep with a song her mother taught her... which just so happens to be MAGIC and points the way to a secret compartment in her mother's old room where a book of magic spells is kept. Yay!

Cassie attempts to boil water in a pot using magic and fails. She shrugs it off with a laugh until she sees that she accidentally boiled the water in a glass in the sink. She goes to the Boathouse to pick up her car, but she's told Jane has already had it towed. She meets Ethan, Adam's dad, who is drunk and cryptic and SAYS THAT HE AND CASSIE'S MOM WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. Oh, and he says that Cassie and Adam are meant to be together, too (thus providing the beginnings of a potential love triangle that isn't really a key factor here). Ah, twisted adult relationships that reflect on / are repeated by their children (Rufus/Lily and Dan/Serena, anyone?) Adam is there and he takes Cassie to the woods and teaches her how to float dew water and then hundreds of droplets rise in the air and it's pretty and crystal-like and kind of reminiscent of Edward revealing himself to be a sparkly vampire in the meadow in Twilight.

Anyway, Adam takes Cassie to the secret coven cabin in the woods and she sees Diana, Faye, and Melissa and meets the other two dudes in the coven, Doug (football jock) and Nick (drug dealer, lives in the house next door to Cassie, their rooms look at each other so Cassie has seen him shirtless, oh, and he and Faye are an item but their sex life is only a 6 or a 7 - her score and his, respectively).

There are rules for the coven. Diana's rules, as she's apparently the strongest. She's also the only other one to have found her family's Book of Shadows (what they call the book Cassie found). They practice together. They don't use their powers for evil, or steal or cheat or hurt others... but those moral lines are slightly murky as they've used magic to help Doug realize his full potential as an athlete and helped Melissa get a B in Chemistry after failing the subject by "opening her mind up to it so she could understand it." They need to keep their power a secret, of course.

Per my (way) above complaint... those are self-imposed rules about the moral use of power. They aren't rules about the limits of power (i.e. Bonnie's nosebleeds when she uses too much magic or, say, her Grams DYING from over-channeling).

Cassie learns the history. There are seven of them; there were seven families who fled Salem (as in witch trials) and founded New Salem. These seven kids are the descendants. And they're all witches! And Cassie makes the circle complete! Yay!

Only Cassie wants no part. She's established herself as a loner, and she's sticking to that. We also see a bit of a power struggle between Diana and Faye. Faye says she's been practicing on her own (breaking Diana's rules) and she gets out of control making it rain later that night at the annual town Lobster Festival. Then she loses control and Diana almost drowns because of it, but is saved. Beyond this, the festival is surprisingly uneventful other than a run-in with "normal" Sally and Cassie meeting Thomas, Diana's father... who the audience will recognize as the guy who killed Amelia, Cassie's mom. Also, Jane talks with Dawn (the vice principal), worried that the kids are together and practicing magic (just like Dawn and Amelia and that entire generation of seven). Dawn denies it, strongly, as it would be absurd! She'd know! The lady doth protest too much (way too much, because she's either an Ignorant Adult or a Manipulative Villain) and it turns out she does know, and she's in cahoots with Thomas, and they need Cassie to do something that's left incredibly vague by the end of the pilot.

And then Cassie, putting her Book of Shadows back in its hiding place, finds a message from beyond the grave from her mother. Which tells her to not go through things alone, and apologizes for not preparing her for what's to come. And so she joins the other six in a magic bonfire circle.


tvdshipper said...

have to agree with you on this one. TVD also grew on me and I got hooked much as I hate vampires. It's also the reson if this gets picked up (I am actually guessing it might), I'll give this a chance...

I also love Caroline (her character development is fantastic, also Tyler's...) although I think they need to develop Matt's character more...

rantmuch said...

"Book of Shadows"... Sorry, but this kinda reminds me of "Charmed"... Witches, check... Power of Three (or in this case, seven), check... mother dying to face destiny as a witch (although it was the grandmother in "Charmed"), check... all we need is a whitelighter/guardian angel and we have Charmed... Sorry for ranting... :-)

Travis Yanan said...


I never really watched Charmed so didn't feel license to say anything about it, but, yeah. But no whitelighter/guardian angel, so... different? Ish???

Dayna Barter said...

Having grown up in Rockland, Maine, home of the actual Lobster Festival, I'll have to watch it just so I can laugh and point out how Vancouver so DOES NOT look like Maine.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait! I loved the books but I know it won't be the same bc tvds was nothing like the books it turned out so much better!!

DuMont said...

Thank you Travis Yanan for your comprehensive review of the pilot script. I can't say I'm won over by the concept (I liked the sound of the lighter feeling 'Betwixt' better), but I have faith in Mr. Kevin Williamson, and his Spellingish eye for winsome casting...signing up Mr. Thomas Dekker of 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids'/'Heroes'/'Terminator' series pedigree is a good first step (I already envision him as the drug dealer), but the series needs a strong female anchor too, and some young girl who has breakthrough looks (a dazzling redhead?) would be re-freshing.

This series seems on a fast track to be packaged together with 'TVD' for CW Thursday scifi genre double feature show. Mr. Williamson is very plugged in to youth culture, and I'm sure he'll get high tune-in and maximum audience glom on to this series.

Anonymous said...

So i don't understad, do you like it? It has space to grow? And which mark will you give to the script? Another reviewer gave a d to it but i don't agree reading the plot

Travis Yanan said...

@ Anonymous 11:16pm

Room to grow. Especially for CW shows, unless I have a violent reaction (like I'm currently having if you look at my Twitter to "Awakening"), I find it difficult to give a grade until I've seen the pilot.

I generally use a "Thumbs Up," "Thumbs Down," and "Jury's Out" grading system, which I'll sort scripts into after I've read them all.

Because SO much of what CW does is about cast chemistry, the scripts tend to be "Jury's Out." It either works on the screen or doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Idk i feel like all these shows tend to suck. VD's is sort a mix for me. couldn;t get into it, but I like it more then twilight.

Well Travis if you say it has room to grow i;ll just have to have blind faith XD.

Honestly I hope it has good charater development becuase it sounds like a rip-off of charm.

Anonymous said...

why do you read awakening's script and dislekis it?

Thesonarchicken said...

Yeah what is just so bad about Awakening's script? Please tell us!

Thesonarchicken said...

And eh, actually I got into TVD after I'd started off on another CW series: Supernatural. I'd been hearing interesting things about it. :P

I didn't watch True Blood yet, though. Kinda hesitated, actually as I dislike massive heaps of sex unless they make any iota of sense or context within a certain plot. And i've heard really good things about Season 1 and not so good things about the next few seasons.

Travis Yanan said...

Hey all, I published my review of Awakening, so you can see why I didn't like it for yourself.

ashley said...

I really hope I'm not the only person reading this script that has actually read Smith's The Secret Circle. So far the only similarities between this script rundown and the books themselves are some of the character names and the fact that they're a coven of witches. I'm actually wondering if the script writer read the books before saying witches, L.J. Smith, Secret Circle. I understand changing things for the sake of--I'll say watchability--but really this might take things a bit too far. The writers here are desperately grasping at the "next big thing" and even as a fan of TSC I'm not sure it can be a long running drama.

ashley said...

And to all of the commenters calling this a rip-off of Charmed, I honestly loved that show. But remember witchcraft has been practiced and discussed and dramatized in this country for hundreds of years. The Secret Circle: The Initiation was first published in 1992 and I'm pretty sure we didn't see any signs of the Halliwells until later in the decade if not into the 2000s. That's all I have to say about that.

Charlotte said...

Ugh. I wish they'd just stick to the books more. . . those were good.

Alie said...

I agree with @Charlotte. The books were great, my fave of the L.J. Smith trilogies actually.

Travis mentioned that he thought 7 was too many characters, but the books actually feature 12-13 (I forget exactly) coven members. They've pared it down a bit there.

I wonder how they are going to work with the whole father thing though since in the books Black John is pretty ominous.

Anonymous said...

I loved the books so much! I'm definently looking forward to this. And i agree, this show is NOT a rip-off of charmed. the books were published waaaaay before charmed was even optioned for a show. case closed. i don't like britt roberston at all though...

Anonymous said...

I am already hooked and ready for this series. I love VD from day one but it had to do with the books which I am a huge fan of but CW has made the series even better which is a rare things most often the books are better. I am ready for this series as always in a new series is takes time to get use to the characters but I can't wait for this one.

Jamie said...

i didn't really like the pilot of the The Vampire Diaries, but the show grew on me and now it's my all time favorite so i'll deffinitly give it a try
it doesn't sound that terrible :)

Diana Meade said...

Thanks for writing that review and sharing those details with us. I also liked your honesty (not the usual dry review lol)! Hopefully they'll make some changes before the final product is aired. :D

Julie said...

I'd just like to say to "rantmuch"...SO??? some of us love Charmed, and miss it, and hated that it ended...I'm looking forward to this show coming out, BECAUSE it reminds me of Charmed! :) Besides, maybe they will even have the Halliwells (any of them) as guests!
lol :)

Anonymous said...

Ripoff of a story I wrote last year...