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Is BBC America's The Choir The Anti-Glee?

It's a provocative question, really. Is BBC America's newest British reality import, The Choir, the exact opposite of FOX's musical-comedy Glee, despite the similar choral trappings?

It is, in every conceivable way and that's a very good thing indeed. The Choir, which launches tonight at 10 pm ET/PT, finds plucky choirmaster Gareth Malone attempting to create a competitive choir out of a group of musical novices at a run-down comprehensive school where music isn't an important element of their education. (You can take a look at some clips from The Choir here.)

With a spot at the World Choir Olympics in China on the line, Malone attempts to fashion these teens into world-class singers and teach them the joys of performing in a group. It's no small task, given that many of these teens are at-risk to begin with and none of them have any formal training.

The result ends up being paradoxically gritty and uplifting, as the cameras not only follow Malone as he attempts to awaken their slumbering musical abilities but also follows the teens home as well, focusing on their own adversities: anger problems, an absent father, a general inability to commit or to attempt to overcome a challenge.

Unlike Glee, these issues raised aren't wrapped up by the time the credits roll at the end of the episode; rather, they spill over from week to week as Gareth butts heads with his teenage choir members and attempts to rein in egos, attitudes, and expectations.

There are no showy daydream numbers here, no auto-tune, no anvil-heavy thematic storytelling. Just a rough docu-style approach that captures the small moments between rehearsals: a gathering of Gareth's opera friends and his search for sheet music is juxtaposed against the travails of modern life: a family awaits word whether their pater familias will be granted a visa to return to the United Kingdom, a mother frets about her daughter's tardiness, a young girl sees the consequences of her actions as she is barred from participating in the choir.

But it's not all doom and gloom, either. Gareth's drive and determination to pull off the seemingly impossible task of shaping these young singers into a single and competitive unit is refreshing in an age of cynicism; his efforts to give these kids a creative outlet and open their minds to something other than pop music is admirable, even as his efforts to get them to sing some Vivaldi is, er, met with some resistance.

Likewise, the series captures the joys and heartbreak of adolescence as well: the excitement that comes from landing a spot on the choir after open auditions to the despair of those who don't. (And those who, to their later chagrin, discover that not all of them may be heading to China to compete.)

The result is uplifting and entertaining in equal measure, not to mention genuinely emotional. Be prepared for the tears, though not the melodramatic kind. There, after all, are no fake pregnancies going on here.

The Choir launches tonight at 10 pm ET/PT on BBC America.


Harryette said…
Based on your review this seems MUCH more enjoyable than Glee--kind of like a Jamie Oliver special rather than a wannabe Lady Gaga video. I'm looking forward to watching it!
Anonymous said…
I love the Choir but I do not think compairisons between it and Glee are necessary. One is a scripted television show with professional performers . One can like them both for different reasons. I happened upon the Choir quite by accident and am so happy I did. It has so much heart and the choirmaster is a sweetheart.

I'm greatful for and enjoy both shows.

Peace ,

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