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CW's 'All American,' 'Charmed' get in the game, casting spells

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By Brian Lowry, CNN

The CW again starts school a little late, but with some of the more promising players in this year's freshmen class: "All American," a soap opera that weaves issues of race and class into its central plot about a high-school football star; and "Charmed," a slick but reasonably faithful reboot from the producers of "Jane the Virgin," with a trio of witches that might actually be worth hunting.

"All-American" is the more intriguing concept, even if it hits a lot of familiar notes, with Daniel Ezra playing James, a standout high-school player at South Crenshaw, growing up in an inner-city neighborhood where one of his games is interrupted by a drive-by shooting.

Enter Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), the coach of Beverly High, with all the "90210"-like privilege that entails. He recruits James -- an increasingly common practice in today's unsavory world of youth sports -- seeing him as the linchpin to his team's prospects of winning.

Produced under Greg Berlanti's factory of CW dramas (which includes "Riverdale"), and loosely inspired by the experience of NFL player Spencer Paysinger, the series deals with some of the more distasteful aspects of the football industrial complex, where money begins flowing into high school, seeking the next potential NFL star.

That backdrop, though, actually provides rich fodder for the soapier qualities, with James's new teammates resenting and seeking to undermine him, while the kid finds himself essentially caught between two worlds -- the neighborhood he left and the one to which he's trying to acclimate.

As pilots go, the show feels inordinately polished, from the casting to the little twists that emerge along the way. Whether that can be sustained is always an issue, but at least initially, "All American" appears to have a pretty solid game plan, as does the new "Charmed."

Premiering 20 years after the original made its debut on the WB (seriously, where did the time go?), the show's primary wrinkle is shifting to predominantly Hispanic characters, who, again, discover they they're part of a rather complicated supernatural legacy, where "the power of three" can help stave off world-imperiling threats.

Melonie Diaz, Sarah Jeffery and Madeleine Mantock star as the reluctant heroes, faced with little matters like trying to mix sorority rush with having to slay a demon -- all without alerting the world to what's going on.

There are a few modern/current-events flourishes, including a rather pointed "witch hunt" reference, and another involving the #MeToo movement.

Still, for a network where youthful heroes and battling the supernatural often go hand in hand, "Charmed" casts a breezy spell. And with CW shrewdly positioning each new show behind a highly compatible drama -- with "Riverdale" blocking for "All American," and "Charmed" after "Supergirl" -- the network should conjure enough curiosity to give each a chance at converting those time slots into a charmed run.

"All-American" and "Charmed" premiere Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, respectively, on the CW.