In 2011, before American Horror Story: Coven returned witches to the zeitgeist where they belong, The CW attempted its own version of a serialized witchcraft saga in The Secret Circle, based on the popular YA novel series written by L.J. Smith of The Vampire Diaries fame/infamy.
Cancelled after a single 22-episode season, The Secret Circle nonetheless bears the honor of having actually generated higher ratings than nearly every show currently on The CW's line-up, not to mention boasting a cast of very talented past, present, and future stars (many of whom have since matriculated in other TV series). Basically if you're in the mood for an angsty supernatural soap full of attractive teenagers doing teenage witchcraft set to teenage music (as I am, constantly), this is your show, and you can stream it here!
With the small town atmospherics of The Vampire Diaries but the more measured emotionalism of My So-Called Life, The Secret Circle tells the tale of Cassie Blake (Under the Dome's Britt Robertson), a newly orphaned teenager forced to move into her grandmother's house in Chance Harbor, Washington. (Let's be real: it's Vancouver.) But almost immediately upon her arrival, she discovers that her family has ancient ties to five other families in town, and each has a teenager patiently waiting for Cassie's arrival. *SPOILER ALERT* They're all witches and Cassie completes their circle, increasing their power significantly.
But as the season plays out, these new friends discover their own parents (including Species' Natasha Henstridge and Queer as Folk's Gale Harrold) are conspiring against the circle to steal their power, and the late-season arrival of a presumed-dead dark magician threatens to divide our heroes permanently.
The biggest selling point of The Secret Circle is its ensemble of young actors. Cassie's immediate love interest is Adam (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Thomas Dekker) whose perhaps excessive sensitivity makes him a stark contrast to hunky Jake (the impossibly dreamy Chris Zylka), an older brother figure with traitorous ties to an ancient group of witch hunters. Meanwhile, Cassie immediately butts heads with mean-girl Faye (the hilarious Phoebe Tonkin, who would later graduate onto TVD and now The Originals) while finding sisterhood with Adam's ex-girlfriend Diana (the luminous Shelley Hennig). To be upfront, The Secret Circle has a much lower-key and lower-stakes vibe than its vampire-based cousin (and former lead-in) The Vampire Diaries, but that makes it perfect for a marathon viewing. It's a hang-out show with occasional visits from demon-snakes and exploding men. More than anything you'll find just as much enjoyment when characters pair off in unexpected ways for one-off adventures. It's that kind of show.
Things you should know before starting your marathon: As with any 22-episode season (particularly a first season), there are definitely some patchy sections. After a stellar pilot (with one of the finest cold opens I've ever seen), the series stumbles for three or four episodes before really finding itself and establishing what it's trying to do. (You'll know this turning point when you see it; it involves a major death.) After that things become very compelling, save for a brief midseason lull.
But if you can get through these growing pains, stay tuned for a truly riveting back-half. The standout 12th episode "Witness" redefines the now-staid flashback episode and "Valentine" manages to combine the wish-fulfillment fun of a magic slumber party with the unholy horror of a slasher film. And though the season finale does indeed end with a tantalizing cliffhanger, not knowing what happens next won't ruin your life. It's definitely more of an "Oh, the possibilities!" type thing rather than an unanswered question.
The Secret Circle may not have nearly the amount of bitchy punchlines or craven unpleasantries as American Horror Story: Coven, but it does have wit, heart, handsome production values, and a metric ton of attractive faces. And magic. There's definitely magic. Why not give it a whirl?
What Are We Marathon-Watching This Week? is a series where the very best TV shows that were canceled or forgotten before their time are spotlighted and treated with the respect they deserved all along — so you can spend all your time in bed, watching them
Price Peterson is a comedy writer and TV recapper from Los Angeles, California. His work currently appears on Vulture, TV.com, and The Atlantic Wire.
Photo Credit: The CW