There is something about high school theatre geeks that everyone loves to hate - and hates to love.

Look at the enormous following High School Musical generated. Those exuberant vaseline smiles and spirit fingers were as contagious as they were irritating.

Now the arrival of Glee, a sitcom centred around a high school performance choir, is spreading gleek fever through America and Australia. Fans are going crazy on blogs and Twitter. The songs are gliding up iTunes charts.

American critics have hailed it as one of the best new shows of the season, an irresistible blend of charm and cynicism, angst and hilarity - Freaks and Geeks meets Fame.

Which is why TV3 has sped up its arrival to New Zealand. Less than two months after premiering on Fox, the show hits our screens replacing America's Next Top Model in the Friday night line-up.

Riddled with catchy numbers and set in a high school, the idea is a more intelligent version of 1978's Grease or the more recent High School Musical, in a television format.

But as the brainchild of Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck and Popular) Glee is also sharp and deviant.

Murphy says he wanted to prove he could do something less dark and adult.

And he wanted it to appeal to everyone - which meant he did not want a series jam-packed with random outbursts of musical numbers like Do-Ray-Me.

So he and Fox came up with three rules; characters could sing when they were performing, when they were in the rehearsal room or during fantasy sequences.

Each episode features well-known anthems from the likes of Kanye West, Les Miserables, Journey and there is even an Usher/Bon Jovi mix-up thrown into the series.

The show revolves around McKinley High School's musical group called the glee club - a sort of modern choir that gets serious about going head-to-head, or voice-to-voice, with other schools.

Its 12 core characters could be found in any institution that lumps together a diverse group of insecure adolescents who are trying to prove themselves.

There are the jocks, the cheerleaders, the freaks, the geeks, the bullied kid in a wheelchair, the teacher who is hopelessly devoted to his school and the dragon of a cheerleading coach who is more insecure than the kids she torments.

When the teacher in charge of the glee club is fired, a young and zealous Spanish teacher Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) takes up the reins and renames it New Directions.

Mr Schuester has high hopes of taking the team to nationals, but a slim chance of doing so with the low budget and motley students he has inherited.

Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) is the only one showing any immediate promise. Her perfect genes were carefully selected by her two fathers, she has been singing and dancing since she was a tot and thinks the choir is her ticket to stardom.

Then in the darkest moment of his career, Mr Shuester uses blackmail to secure football quarterback Finn Hudson (Corey Monteith) as a male lead.

And here-in lies the conflict: Finn's peers will destroy him if Sue Sylvester, head of the cheerleading squad the Cheerios, does not destroy the glee club first.

Perhaps it is a cheesy storyline accompanied by even cheesier songs, but there is enough complexity and depth to the characters for it to work.

Jane Lynch, who plays Sue Sylvester, thinks the show's mass appeal comes down to music being able to bring everyone together.

"I think it's the great equaliser. When people are making music together they're all one."

Lynch was in the choir when she was at school but it was nothing like the performance choreography of the glee club. In her day it was all about standing in long robes singing religious songs.

Her character Sue is the grinch of music, out to destroy the glee club and everything it represents.

The role has taken Lynch back to high school and all that conformist pressure that is part of every adolescent's life education.

"It's good being the teacher. It brings back memories of hierarchy. Teachers at McKinley have their own little buffoonery," she says.

She thinks that as the coach of the Cheerios, Sue is probably trying to make up for something that still torments her about her own time at high school.

Lynch, who has appeared in television shows The L Word and Criminal Minds, had supporting roles in films such as The Forty Year-Old Virgin and played the lesbian in Christopher Guest's mockumentary film Best in Show is one of the better-known members of the Glee cast.

Others like Jenna Ushkowitz, who plays thespian Tina, have come straight to television from the stage.

Ushkowitz says she was a total theatre geek and in a select choir at a Catholic school. She remembers the pecking order that pushed the cheerleaders and jocks to the top of the ladder and tossed the theatre geeks far below.

She drew on those high school experiences to develop Tina into a gothic total geek who likes to sing and dance: "She is all niches in one."

"Everyone goes through that phase at high school when they're a bit insecure," she says. "I definitely feel like Tina's part of me, though I'm a little more positive than she is. I'm definitely shy, but I'm not dark like her."

Ushkowitz is coy about all the sudden publicity and says she cannot imagine herself being plastered across young fans' bedroom walls: "It's crazy, I can't even fathom being recognised at this point."

But she will. Fox used a daring marketing strategy to launch the series, playing the preview in May in one of television's most coveted prime time spots directly after the finale of American Idol.

Before the premiere four months later, it carried on building the buzz through web marketing and public appearances.

The show pulled in a total audience of 7.3 million when it premiered in America on September 9. That made it Fox's best scripted drama premiere in three years.

The network has already picked up the second half of the series, which makes it 22 episodes long.

Glee already has more than 500,000 friends on Facebook - the same as the page for High School Musical 3 - and more than 60,000 posts on

It seems the time is right for some spirited light relief in the lead-up to the New Zealand summer, especially while other shows are analysing the impact of the recession and ripping apart what we are eating.

And this one comes with a soundtrack that you can practise singing along to on the official website ...

Bring on the gleek chorus.

What: Glee
Where and when: Premieres on TV3 on Friday November 6 at 7.30pm.
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