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If you only watch one thing on TV this season, make it Glee, the show everyone will be talking about... set tongues wagging for the year

Glee has taken America by storm. That's the TV series, by the way, not the emotion -- although there's a fair amount of actual glee to be derived from watching Glee, a musical comedy-drama that superficially shares a common DNA with a lot of other series, yet is in a class of its own.

Bizarrely, all this pleasure comes from the imagination of Ryan Murphy, Glee's creator/ director and a man whose previous biggest television success was the deliciously offbeat and deranged plastic surgery drama Nip/Tuck.

If there's any justice in the world then it will cause a similar sensation on this side of the Atlantic.

The reason is laughably simple: it's feelgood television that you don't have to feel bad or guilty about watching.

The creative impulses behind Glee, however, are far from simple.

It doesn't look promising at first sight.

The setting is a high school -- that unfathomably American institution which has bequeathed enough crass movies to fill the bargain bins of a hundred branches of Xtra-vision -- and the central characters are a bunch of oddballs, misfits and outcasts who make up the William McKinley High School's glee club; that's a singing and dancing group to you and me.

The club has just been revived by Spanish teacher Mr Schuester (Matthew Morrison), whose grasping, grating wife wants him to mortgage everything, including his happiness, to a life of suburban hell in an overpriced house they can ill afford. She's also not above lying about being pregnant to hang onto her man.

The glee club members include beefy quarterback Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith, 27 but playing 16), who heeds the call of his musical soul and joins the club, much to the horror of his macho team-mates, who can't understand why he would want to hang out with what they see as a bunch of losers.

Finn is attracted to the glee club's star singer Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), a neurotic Jewish princess in the classic mould, who's been ostracised by the coolest girls in school -- including Finn's regular girlfriend, the spiteful cheerleader Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron).

Rachel also has the hots for Finn but their relationship is complicated by the fact that Finn has, well, timing problems in the intimacy department.

To put it as delicately as possible, he tends to arrive at his destination before Rachel has even boarded the bus.

Glee bursts with memorable characters, but far and away the most vivid -- and the one who has captured the imagination of the American audience -- is the malevolent, acid-tongued and downright terrifying Sue Sylvester (a standout performance from Jane Lynch), the camp commandant-style head coach of the all-singing, all- smiling, all-backstabbing cheer-leaders (or "Cheerios").

Sylvester loathes Schuester and his band of social rejects, and sees his decision to revive the glee club as an unacceptable encroachment upon her rightful territory.

Sue Sylvester is a brilliantly horrible creation and Lynch's performance, which deserves to be rewarded with a cabinet full of Emmys, is a cornerstone of Glee.

But there's much more to enjoy; in fact, there's something for everyone to enjoy, which is undoubtedly the key to Glee's success Stateside. Tweens who love the High School Musical movies will delight in the exuberant, energetic, let's-put-on-a-show-right-here musical numbers, all of which are cleverly reworked covers of classic numbers and newer hits.

Teens who might not necessarily be the most popular kids in their school will revel in the sight of the put-upon geeks putting one over on the jocks and the bullies, as well as connecting with the clever, light-as-a-feather handling of issues like love and sex, friendship and fidelity, loyalty and betrayal.

Adults will enjoy the smart, deceptively subtle comedy, which sneaks in all sorts of cleverly concealed satire that would be about as popular in America's Bible Belt as Barack Obama as a Klan meeting.

Fundamentalist Christians are already outraged at the series' well-aimed snipes and swipes and at the teenage celibacy craze, whose poster boys are the purity-ring wearing Jonas Brothers, the latest machine-tooled pop fodder from the Disney factory.

And, just for good measure, Jane Lynch is an out and proud lesbian.

Primarily, though, Glee is about having fun.

In short, it's probably the first series several generations of the family can sit down and watch together, each one taking something completely different from it.

On the surface, it fizzes with energy; think Fame dressed up with the candy colours and rapid cutting of Ugly Betty.

Underneath, it's the sharpest, funniest thing on television at the moment.

Glee is on TV3, Wednesdays at 8pm


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