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TELEVISION REVIEW

Fox series preview hits every note

Lea Michele earns her gold stars playing Rachel in the cast of Fox's new series ''Glee.'' Lea Michele earns her gold stars playing Rachel in the cast of Fox's new series ''Glee.'' (Carin Baer/Fox via Associated Press)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / May 19, 2009
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'Glee" is a funny word. It's onomatopoetic, so you can't hear it without sensing joy for a split second. And you can't say it without singing - "eeee" - ever so slightly. "Glee" is the perfect name for Fox's appealing new high school series, which is filled with joy and song. It's the latest iteration of that eternally uplifting "Let's Put on a Show" genre, and if you're a fan of "Fame," "Hairspray," or "High School Musical," this scripted dramedic take on glee club is totally for you.

Fox appears to understand the great audience potential of "Glee": The network is running a preview episode tonight after "Idol," at 9 on Channel 25, but then holding back the series until the fall to engender a summer of buzz and anticipation. It knows viewers of "Idol" are already inclined to enjoy song-and-dance and the race for fame.

While "Glee" traffics in teen do-what-you-love message-pushing, and while it predictably urges kids to reject narrowly defined "jock" or "nerd" boxes, the Ohio-set show is not exactly wholesome. It's better than wholesome. Ryan Murphy, the guy behind "Nip/Tuck," is the "Glee" creator, and he infuses all the familiar self-esteem stroking with a hint of the comically perverse. No, he doesn't send the sicko meter reeling as he does on "Nip/Tuck," which has left no fetish unexplored, no body part un-obsessed-over. But the performance sequences revolve around such unlikely hits as "Rehab," the theme of fame worship is satirized, and the teachers at McKinley High School are twisted.

The first teacher we meet tonight is the sadistic cheerleading coach, played by top-notch comic-ensemble player Jane Lynch. "You think this is hard?" she yells at her girls. "Try being waterboarded." Also on staff at McKinley: a pot-smoking football coach and an obsessive-compulsive guidance counselor who wears rubber gloves to lunch.

The show's central character is relatively ordinary: Matthew Morrison plays optimistic Everyteacher Will Schuester, who supervises the McKinley glee club after its leader is fired for inappropriate behavior. But Will is married to the absurdly high-maintenance Terri, who is obsessed with Pottery Barn, has a crafts room, and implements Wednesday puzzle nights with her husband. Played to self-centered perfection by Jessalyn Gilsig, she's like something out of "Arrested Development." The glee club kids are off-center, too, especially Rachel (Lea Michele), who brings a new kind of likability to the stereotypical teen goody-goody. Whenever Rachel writes her name, she sticks a gold star after it, and yet you actually don't wind up hating her for it.

Drama tinges the corners of "Glee." Football player and singer Finn (Cory Monteith - a teenybopper prince in the making) lost his father in the Gulf War, and Will is engaged in a soulful struggle between his love of teaching and his need to make more money. The show has a heart. But the dominant note in "Glee" is comedy, the production numbers are vibrant, and the cast is consistently winning. If Murphy can make the rest of the series as persuasive as the pilot, he may have a lot of people feeling "Glee" in the fall.

GLEE Starring: Jessalyn Gilsig, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Jane Lynch

On: Fox, Channel 25

Time: Tonight, 9-10

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