FOX'S MELODIC high school comedy, "Glee," is one of those blissfully clever, quirky and original pieces of television that almost makes you afraid to fall in love with it. Ah, but how can you not?

The problem is that clever, quirky and blissfully original pieces of television often don't stick around for long — especially on the formulaic broadcast networks. You form an intense bond with such a show and then — poof — suddenly it's gone.

We're crossing our fingers that "Glee" bucks the trend. And the good news is that, after debuting a dazzling sneak-peek pilot in May, it returns with its freshness intact.

To review: The series follows the exploits of an idealistic young teacher (Matthew Morrison) who has taken on the monumental task of reviving the rag-tag glee club at his former high school.

Perched at the bottom of the campus food chain, this motley crew revolves around a maniacally ambitious diva (Lea Michele) and a handsome jock (Cory Monteith). Naturally, the diva and the jock crush on each other.

Yes, it sounds like "High School Musical," but it's really not. On "Glee," the sentimental sweetness is undercut with bite and edge. Meanwhile, poignancy is balanced out by raucous — occasionally raunchy — humor.

Balance, in fact, is a real strength of the series. Even the musical choices have a nice mix of classic hits and recent tunes that get your feet tapping.

In tonight's episode, "Showmance," the glee kids are set to perform in front of the student body for the first time. But trouble looms when they conspire to dump a lame disco tune in favor of Salt-n-Pepa's blatantly sexual "Push It" — complete with racy of bump-and-grind moves.

One of the best things about the new episodes is that we get better acquainted with more members of the wonderful "Glee" ensemble. An early standout is Jane Lynch as she-devil cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester, who spews wickedly sarcastic lines while working to sabotage the glee club.

In a future episode, Kurt (Chris Colfer), a puny and effeminate singer, takes center stage when he tries out for the football team to please his macho dad. Kurt's hilarious take on Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It") is a major highlight.

Beyonce, however, has no reason to worry.

Reach Chuck Barney at cbarney@bayareanewsgroup.com. Also, read his TV blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv and his TV updates at twitter.com/chuckbarney

FALL TV
  • WHAT: "Glee"
  • WHEN: 9 tonight
  • WHERE: Channels 2 and 40 (Fox)
  • GRADE: A