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Is The Secret Circle Magically Delicious? Our Fall TV First Impression!

The broadcast networks have more than 30 shows debuting this fall, including Steven Spielberg’s dino-mite Terra Nova, homecomings for Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rachel Bilson, and a U.S. take on the UK’s Prime Suspect. To help you prep, TVLine is offering First Impressions based on the not-for-review pilots. Next up…

THE SHOW | The CW’s The Secret Circle (Thursdays at 9/8c, premiering Sept. 15)

THE COMPETITION | ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, Fox’s Bones, CBS’ Person of Interest (new), and NBC’s The Office/Whitney (new)

THE CAST | Britt Robertson (Life Unexpected), Thomas Dekker (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Gale Harold (Queer as Folk), Natasha Henstridge (Eli Stone), and others.

More TVLine First Impressions: CBS’ Person of Interest, Fox’s New Girl, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, The CW’s Ringer, CBS’ 2 Broke Girls and NBC’s The Playboy Club

THE SET-UP | Like fellow newcomers Once Upon a Time and Grimm, Secret Circle is about an ordinary person coming to terms with their extraordinary destiny. Here, it’s Cassie Blake (played by Robertson), a freshly orphaned high school student who relocates to her late mother’s hometown of Chance Harbor, Washington. Boarding with her grandma (Heroes‘ Ashley Crow), Cassie immediately strikes a spark with Adam (Dekker), befriends his girlfriend Diana (Days of Our Lives’ Shelley Hennig), elicits antagonism from “Faye, the resident bad girl” (as Phoebe Tonkin‘s character is conveniently introduced), and all told comes to suspect that something is amiss in this waterfront burg. Eventually, Faye blurts it out: “You’re a witch, 100-percent witch,” as is the rest of the half-dozen friends. With Cassie completing the circle, Faye effuses, the teens’ powers can escalate — even though their similarly powered parents abolished witchcraft years ago, following a horrible, tragic incident.

Fall TV Preview: TVLine’s Guide to All That Is New

THE GOOD | The story of an innocent, scarred waif stumbling upon a supernatural situation in which she plays a critical role is not a new one for The CW — look no further than Secret Circle‘s lead-in, The Vampire Diaries. (The kinship is of course no surprise, since the shows share literary lineage, both being born of L.J. Smith’s pen, and an exec producer in Kevin Williamson.) As such, you’re looking at one of the easiest programming calls around, meaning this newbie stands a fighting chance. Robertson is pretty darn perfect as Cassie, displaying sufficient amounts of disbelief about Chance Harbor’s secret circle, until Adam — in a beautifully shot, magical sequence — proves her power. Dekker, showing good chem with Robertson, is certain to cement heartthrob status among the CW fans. As Diana’s dad Charles, who is secretly the big pot-stirrer amongst the empowered adults, Harold oozes malevolence, no more so than in the pilot’s cold open or when he exchanges “words” with Adam’s blabby (yet entertaining) drunk of a dad (Queer as Folk‘s Adam Harrington).

THE… COULD-BE-BETTER | Like I said, Secret Circle is a fastball down the middle for The CW, and not much in this critic-proof series’ pilot screamed problematic. Dekker, while bringing perhaps the most gravitas of any of the Chance Harbor kids, could stand to have a bit more edge. Tonkin walks around with a permasmirk that, while befitting her character, at times reads as over-the-top. Hennig is a dead ringer for The Office‘s Ellie Kemper, which actually is not a bad thing at all — it’s merely distracting in a fun way!

Fall 2011 TV Grid: Where Did Your Favorite Shows Land?

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | If The CW’s Nikita and its action-thriller elements had one problem in this time slot, it was shedding too much of Vampire Diaries‘ audience and demos. If the disconnect between those disparate worlds, and not the competition, was the issue there, Secret Circle should fare better. The big question is if this freshman drama can also draw eyeballs away from ABC’s graying Grey’s and Fox’s late-premiering Bones.

Watch a video preview for The Secret Circle, then vote in our poll below.