By Ken Tucker
Updated October 22, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Matthias Clamer/FOX

Has there ever been a TV show more aptly named than Glee? It both embodies and inspires exactly that quality. Yet if I tell you the show is about a high school glee club and features bursting-into-song musical numbers, you might react as I did initially: I wanted no part of that. I’m not a musicals kinda guy.

But this comedy from creator Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) is so good — so funny, so bulging with vibrant characters — that it blasts past any defenses you might put up against it. Glee will not stop until it wins you over utterly. It’s the story of Will (Matthew Morrison), a high school Spanish teacher who takes over a pathetic glee club filled with misfits.

Murphy takes what could have been moldy, cliché figures — such as Rachel, the persecuted girl (Lea Michele), Finn, the football hero who really wants to croon (Cory Monteith), and teachers like cheerleading coach Sue (the wonderful Jane Lynch) — and brings fresh details to them. Rachel asserts, ”Being anonymous is worse than being poor…. Fame is the most important thing in society.” At first, you want to barf at a sentiment like that, but then Glee makes the battle to overcome anonymity seem like a higher calling.

That’s surely the case for Will, who’s trying to distance himself from his high-pressure, baby-craving young wife (Jessalyn Gilsig, wonderfully tightly wound). Will is inspired by recalling the one time he was truly happy — when he sang in his own high school glee club. In a healthy way, he’s going to channel his nostalgia into making the club, called New Directions, glow: ”There’s no joy in these kids?. That?s why they all have a MySpace page,” he says. Glee is all about sparking ambition, getting kids off the sofa and doing creative things. But it also has a healthy dose of sarcasm and skepticism to offset its peppy interpretations of Journey hits. The production numbers show the sweat and constructive criticism that goes into good performances.

The series is getting a big push from Fox, which is premiering the show in what would seem an ideal spot for its core audience, right after American Idol. But Glee is still the little musical-comedy-drama that could…bomb. As terrific as it is, it’s a risk. Why? Because there?s nothing else like it on TV. Because regular episodes won’t begin airing weekly until this fall. (Future musically adept guest stars will include Pushing Daisies‘ Kristin Chenoweth.) And because lots of folks may feel as I do, that Idol has pretty much ruined young-people-singing-passionately for me. But I was persuaded by Glee‘s cagey little mind as well as its big, throbbing heart. I think you will be too. A

Episode Recaps

The fourth season of Glee was full of ups and downs, but one consistent bright spot was Lea Michele's Rachel Berry, who stretched her wings…


Jane Lynch, Lea Michele, and high school anxiety star in Fox’s campy musical.

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