Now that both Vampire Diaries and the Secret Circle are on winter hiatus, I’ve asked Nicole to join me for a meeting of the brain trust to discuss The Secret Circle, which, for better or worse, is nearly inseparable from Vampire Diaries at this point. Now that we’ve reached a our first break, it seemed like a good time to step back and take a look at the show so far as a whole. As always, SB is in blue and Nicole is in purple.
I’m going to get it out of the way first. Secret Circle is definitely not as good as The Vampire Diaries. And honestly, I’m not sure whether to call it disappointing, because I didn’t really have any expectations for the show–in fact, it might even be better than I would’ve initially thought. But I don’t think that the quality comparisons are helped by the fact that commercials are always throwing the TVD/TSC producer connection in our face at every opportunity, and I REALLY don’t think that TSC benefits, comparison wise, from airing on the same night as TVD. I’m sure it benefits ratings-wise, which is obviously important for business, but … I don’t feel like as a viewer, there’s any benefit at all.
I can completely understand this perspective, because TVD has really mastered the art of perpetual motion, where at this point every episode feels like three, given how much HAPPENS in an hour. I think that a big part of this is the fact that TVD has built up a huge cast of characters that can be endlessly explored in different configurations. TSC is still in it’s infancy and whether by design or due to budget constraints, has a more limited pool of people to work with. The show just feels smaller-scale and more insular than TVD, and when the smaller show follows the bigger, more epic show, I’m sure that to some it can feel like a bit of a letdown.
With TSC, we see the same six main characters in the same handful of settings on a weekly basis, which can start to feel a little static, even this early into the run. I think that this is why episodes like ‘Beneath’ led to such a strong (positive) fan reaction; because the show expanded it’s physical setting and it was exciting for the audience to move beyond the abandoned house, the bar and Cassie’s Kitchen of Death. (This episode also worked because it let the kids be teenagers and have some fun, which I’ll get to in more detail later). So overall, I agree that following TVD with TSC is probably not the best idea, because the scale feels much smaller in comparison and therefore possibly a little anti-climactic. I tend to watch TVD on Fridays, so this isn’t really an issue for me, However, most people probably do watch them back to back and I think even just flipping the order would work. Of course, that would deprive TSC of the TVD lead-in, which could be a problem – does it have a strong enough following at this point to compete with everything else on Thursdays at 8? I don’t know.
Well, I doubt that anything on the CW can REALLY compete with everything else on at eight on Thursdays (except, apparently, Community–sad face), but I think they’re okay with that. I feel like CW isn’t really EXPECTED to compete, so they have different standards.
I do want to go back to your point about the scale of the show, though. I just feel like, in a setting like the Pacific Northwest, there should be more variety in settings just by virtue of being in the great outdoors, ESPECIALLY with all the witchy nature connection shit. And they have the restaurant, but they don’t even use that very much. And (AND!) it cannot be that hard to find young, pretty, unknown actors who will work for cheap to get some exposure. I mean, was it really NECESSARY to cast Lux in this part? No. And I hope they didn’t blow their budget on her and Thomas Dekker. (I mean, she’s MUCH better as Cassie than Lux, but I’m obviously still not over it completely.) I don’t know exactly what the problem is with the show, but I will say this–I don’t think it’s a problem with the acting (I especially love the adults, and the kids are fine), and I don’t think it’s a problem with premise or style. I think this is a writing issue, and I have a couple of key points as to WHY I think that. Ready for the bullets?
- It’s like they’re trying to shock their audience and they have an idea of what will be shocking but no clue how to execute it to truly jaw-dropping effect. For example, Nick’s death was neither emotional nor shocking because he was an asshole that no one (including most of the characters) cared about. Compare this with TVD, who will make you love and adore a fictional character to the point of possible insanity and THEN kill them just to destroy you and remind you who has the biggest ding-dong!
- With the exception of Faye, pretty much everyone in the circle has the exact same personality. Think about it. None of them have any real defining personality traits, much less subtleties. They have motivations, kind of, but everything is always so heavy-handed and “told, not shown”. Again, compare with TVD, where completely irrelevant to any plot points, we know that Damon is a clean freak, or Caroline is afraid of ghosts. These little details turn characters into real people for the audience, and The Secret Circle really hasn’t even defined their characters at all beyond the broadest strokes possible. Oh, Cassie is the logical one. Or is that Diana? Maybe Diana is just the perfect one. Adam is the … quiet one? Jake is the bad boy with a heart of gold. Melissa is the slutty insecure one. (Faye gets left out of this sequence for obvious reasons of awesomeness–more of THAT, please.)
- Nothing really happens. I mean, it does a LITTLE, but I think I could sum up the entire season so far in a paragraph or less. Try doing that with TVD. Just TRY it. I can’t even sum up an episode in a paragraph or less. But with this show, Cassie moves to town, the circle is more powerful bound, Cassie might have black magic, there are witch hunters, the new guy was one but now pretty much isn’t, everyone has a boner for Cassie, and there’s standard teenage love triangle crap. See? DONE. And yeah, I know that’s an oversimplification–there’s adults and crystals and snake demons and blah blah, but you could definitely jump right in with zero problems at all at this point. Shit, if you saw the first episode, you’re basically still caught up.
- This show has a serious lack of fun. In a show with six hot, magical teenagers, there has been like one and a half sex scenes. What the fuck? Halloween was nice, when they were magically animating bat decorations and stuff, but like … really? Must it be ALL doom and gloom ALL the damn time? Lighten up, crack a joke here and there, do something stupid with magic … basically, make me want to BE a witch before trying to make me be all sympathetic toward how being a witch is sooooooo hard. Also, TVD (yup, everything here is a comparison, get over it) mostly keeps the brooding to Stefan with a side of Jeremy brooding, but less so lately. That is MORE than enough. The last thing I need is six brooding black holes of fun on my TV. (Also, suddenly, “black holes of fun” sounds SUPER dirty. Oops?)
I will say that I think that the writers have set up some interesting places for the plot to go, IF they can deliver on them, but we’ll get back to that. For now, Nicole, I want your take on what the issue is and about all the criticism I just dished out.
Okay. This is where you and I agree on a lot. Except for a couple of things (obviously, or this would be a very short and polite post). I agree that they need more kids on this show, clearly. And since this all goes back to a comparison with TVD, let me add a bit of wishful thinking to my thoughts here. Since TVD has their own cast member who is the grandson of a Hollywood legend (Steven R. McQueen), TSC should counter that with Ethan Peck. Right? Right. If you watched the short-lived 10 Things I Hate About You on ABC Family, you know what I’m talking about. Other than him, please feel free to hire all of the pretty, unknown actors you want, show.
But on to more serious points, when I think about TVD, the mental image is a fast-moving collage of color, light, and people in lots of different settings. When I think about TSC, I picture six sullen teens laying about in a dank, abandoned house. Or sometimes leaning against Cassie’s kitchen counter. TVD is dazzling to look at because it’s ambitious, but TSC, so far…not so much. There are lots of pretty people, but it’s very dark (literally – everything is grey) and there are like three locations. They need the show to pop more visually, more color, more locations, more people…just MORE. TVD’s first episode (I think) had a HUGE school party out in the woods with like a hundred kids, bonfires, and several smallish stories happening all at once…TSC needs more of this.
Now, to address your bullet points:
- I am in total agreement with you re: Nick. Now, I know that there are lots of viewers who disagree because I felt their wrath every time I made fun of what a dick he was in my recaps, but they seemed more like fans of the actor than the character, so I don’t count that. Fangirls are loyal to the death, as we all know. But he WAS a dick, and he was boring, and he only started to show any kind of personality beyond ‘bored asshole’ immediately before he died, and that wasn’t enough to make me care about him. I cared more about what his death meant for Charles, because HE is a fantastic character. But when an evil guy kills a ‘good’ guy, the viewer should really not be sympathizing more with the evil guy, you know? As it stands right now, the only kid characters that I’d be really upset to see die are Faye and Jake, because they are complex and interesting and FUN, and lord knows that this show cannot afford to lose anyone fun. Which brings me to the question…
- WHY SO SERIOUS??? Those who have been reading my recaps know that I am constantly annoyed with Cassie, Diana, Melissa and SADam for being so goddamn dour all the time. You’re TEEN WITCHES! Have some fun! Make some jokes! Go to parties! Go to a concert! Do anything other than compare Books of Fucking Shadows all freaking day. Sure, you have to do that sometimes, but do you have to look like POWs while you do it? We’ve seen glimpses of them acting like actual kids and being irresponsible and stuff, but those moments are few and far between. As it stands right now, the circle is always in either fight mode or preparation mode, when they should be in self-absorbed teen mode until forced to get their shit together. I guess Diana’s whole thing is being Little Miss Type A, but then fine – only her. There is no way a group of six teenagers are ALL so serious all the time. Put SADam on some anti-depressants and let the laughter in already.
- BUT, here is where I disagree somewhat with your point, SB, or at least I’m more optimistic than you. I think that in the last few episodes, we’ve seen some really strong indications that things are heading in the right direction. First, the addition of Jake was huge. And not just because he’s pretty and has a hilarious deep-V obsession. His arrival was so important because he is like a male version of Faye – fun, dynamic, not always doing the right thing, unpredictable…these are all great qualities in a character. Even though he’s at least semi-evil right now, I think we all suspect that he’ll soon be fully on Team Witch and that’s great, but I’m not worried that this will make him boring because while his motivations might change, his personality has already been established. Now they just need to work on rounding out the others – not that they all have to be Faye and Jake, but they should each be fully-formed in their own way. As a comparison, let’s look at Faye and SADam and what we know about them as people so far: Faye is snarky, confident and mischievous, but it’s all covering some serious insecurity that she’s got buried deep down. She’s lost her grandfather, and was completely devastated by it. She has a predilection for the more self-serving aspects of being a teen witch. SADam is sullen and has a boner for Cassie, and that’s about it. I’d really like it if we could get some sense of him apart from that. What’s his home life like? What does he do for fun? Or why is he incapable of having fun? Something. Anything! Show the kids at school, in class, dealing with other kids that they know. For most of the Circle Jerkers, we only know who they are in relation to each other, and we really need a broader picture to add some dimension.
- I’m also more optimistic with your point about ‘nothing is happening’. For a while each episode was very insular and about a specific threat that needed be addressed, but aside from all of the talk of The Night of the Fire, there hasn’t been much in terms of big stakes that will carry us through the season and beyond. However, I do think that the mid-season finale has finally set up a really cool long-term storyline with the Balcoin family legacy and the fact that there is another descendant in the circle. We don’t know a lot about his whole ‘dark magic’ thing yet, but it’s intriguing, and it’s a great way to get the parents and kids all involved in something huge that we can all get really invested in, like the Elena/Katherine/doppelganger story that kicked off TVD and set up a million different sub-plots for the future. Obviously, we have to see how it all plays out, but there have been enough glimmers of promise so far that I think the writers can take this to really interesting places and I’m still invested enough to want to see where it’s all going.
Listen, I wouldn’t say I’m NOT invested … I’m just like, minimally invested. I do agree that they’ve set up some places to go, and I also know that they’ve cast another boy. And the addition of Melissa’s cousin spiced things up with Diana, too. So I SHOULD be looking forward to these things …
I guess that my biggest complaint boils down to one simple issue–I just get kind of BORED. I feel weird saying that, like oddly guilty, but it’s how I feel. I do like Faye, but in general, I feel like she gets a bit sidelined while Cassie stories happen. I was into Adam and Cassie, and I really liked the dynamic set up by Adam and Diana’s break up, but a lot of times, that stuff feels like an afterthought. And I can’t really decide if I think it SHOULD be an afterthought, because on the one hand, this IS a show about witches and their circle, but on the other hand, this is also a show about teenagers, and I love my angst, goddammit.
And you know, I thought at first that my boredom might just be a function of the TVD connection–the expectations set up by TVD, the similarities in aesthetic, the source material from the same author … but when I think a little harder about it, I don’t think that’s it. This started off as a TSC/TVD comparison, but I’m about to bring in Hart of Dixie, which is undeniably Not A Good Show, and yet it’s awesome and I kind of love it. Essentially, they have the same number of main characters (because really, does Melissa even count as a character at this point?), but the show still feels really lively and energetic and I feel really engaged with it. Part of it is that they make effective use of secondary characters, and part of it is just that it’s fun. They’re both in the same boat of having familiarity on their side (HOD with the Doc Hollywood/old-school WB feel and TSC with the current fad of teenage supernatural stuff), but TSC is falling flat for me. Is it a chemistry issue?
Take another campy teen favorite, Pretty Little Liars. As you well know, Nicole, it’s about as ridiculous as it gets. Story-wise, it’s complete nonsense most of the time. But I believe in the characters’ friendships with each other and their stake in the good of the group. With TSC, I don’t feel like most of the characters are invested in each other, and they seem kind of half-heartedly invested in their circle. It’s just hard to feel like I have a personal stake in this as an audience member when I question how much of a stake the characters themselves have in this story.
I was thinking about what I wanted to say here, and your comparison with HOD leads me perfectly to what I think is the biggest issue that I have with the structure of the show, and it’s something that HOD, in contrast, does very, very well. As you pointed out, there are a similar number of main characters on HOD as there are on TSC. HOWEVER, one of the things I like most about watching HOD is the fact that it feels like there is a LOT going on every week (even if at least 15% of that is people discussing Bilson’s formal shorts). This stems from the fact that in any given episode you might have a George/Wade thing, a Zoe/Brick thing, a Lemon/Lavon thing (or any combination of the six), and then on top of that, you’ve got Shelly, Rose, various parents, guest stars and myriad townspeople to interact with. But the biggest thing is that the characters are each involved in their own individual stories on a regular basis, even though they almost always fall under the umbrella of a common larger story (say, the Miss Sugar and Spice Butter Sculpting and Sheep Shearing Pageant for example).
TSC on the other hand tends to keep the kids together in one storyline for an entire episode. Sure, there might be a scene or two where part of the group is off on their own (usually Cassie and a guy, usually exchanging meaningful yet pained glances) they are often in a room together or on the phone with each other dealing with a common issue, like fighting Zombie Heather or finding Faye’s grandfather. I haven’t gone back and re-watched the beginning of the season or anything, but I don’t recall there being many parallel storylines going on in each episode. The only instance of that is Charles and Dawn and their Evil Plan of Evil, which is fantastic and one of my favorite things about the show (those scenes are always so campy and soapy, like Revenge, but with less gay hustlers and more black magic).
Going back to our original point of comparison, TVD, this still applies. Think of your average TVD episode, and what might be going on: Elena and Damon worrying about Stefan. Alaric mourning Jenna and drinking too much. Jeremy finding even more Gilbert family artifacts and Binging around online for further information. Bonnie and Caroline volunteering for the latest town spectacular while they commiserate and bitch about the bastards who did them wrong. Stefan killing his way through Chicago in an attempt to drown out any last remnants of his humanity. Katherine working behind the scenes on her latest plan to take down Klaus. These are just examples, but if you watch TVD you know that it would be par for the course for all of these things to be happening AT THE SAME TIME.
I think what I’m trying to say here is that TSC would be much better served if they had a few different plots happening simultaneously, and not just split into age groups. It will get a little stale if every episode is divided by parents/kids (and clearly it has for some already). Just as important as parallel storylines is that some of those storylines aren’t related to witchery, or at least not directly. Have someone run for student council, or get a job, or enter a pregnancy pact with their gym class (I’m kidding about one of those – who has time for a job?!?!?). What I’m saying here, if you want me to bottom-line this for you, is that more is more.
This is SO TRUE. I mean, look at the puddle of piss I left when TVD went back to high school. And Buffy was AMAZING when she was all running for prom queen and not making the cheerleading squad! More of that! I just feel like you should use what you’ve got going for you.
Now I will say, “Heather” was a goddamn amazing hour of television, no joke. But see, that’s the thing. That shit was DARK, and almost like true (MOVIE) horror. I could get behind the show living in that realm all the time if it doesn’t want to go teenybopper, but right now, I feel like it’s trying to live in the middle and it’s just not working. At some point, you have to decide what kind of show you are, or you just end up being a show with varying degrees of beautiful people who are just sort of hanging out. And much like in life, the pretty can only take you so far.
I read an article about Terra Nova on FOX not long ago. Does anyone else watch that show? No? Well, whatever. You don’t really have to to follow along. It was talking about how it’s like Terra Nova understands all of the elements of a good (in this case) sci-fi show, and how to incorporate them, but it doesn’t understand WHY they work, and so it becomes an empty replica of a truly great show, like Battlestar Galactica. I kind of feel this way about TSC. It’s like it understands things that work about TVD and tries to implement them, but it doesn’t seem to have a grasp of building a world, creating emotionally resonant characters, increasing tension … I can see where, on paper, The Secret Circle SHOULD work, but until they figure out how to inject some heart into it, I have some serious long-term concerns, no matter how many hot boys they throw at me.
I hear you. I do. But I’m an optimist, and I’ve seen a lot that I like so far about TSC and so I’m not in danger of jumping ship before the season is out or anything. (I’m not either, for the record.) I feel like things had been on a pretty continuous upswing leading up to hiatus, where they were starting to find a bit more of a balance of teenager-ness and witchery. But clearly, based on this very long post, I feel that the show could be SO MUCH MORE AWESOME if they started to implement some of what we’ve been talking about here. But enough about what we’d like to see – readers…what say you? Are we talking out of our asses or do you agree with our constructive criticisms? Is there anything you’d like to add to what we’ve said? Anything you just flat-out disagree with? You know a post isn’t complete without your input, so hit the comments and tell us what you think!!