CBS and Fox must have been playing some weird game of one-upmanship when developing How I Met Your Mother and Kitchen Confidential. One show casts Alyson Hannigan from Buffy, so the other casts Nicholas Brendan; one gets John Cho from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, so the other gets Neil Patrick Harris; one gets scheduled to air on Mondays at 8:30 (Eastern/Pacific, and yes, after living here for 12 years, I’m still not used to watching TV on Central time), so the other gets dropped into the exact same slot.

The Formula:
How I Met Your Mother = Coupling + The Wonder Years

How I Met Your Mother is framed by Bob Saget’s voice as he bores his children with stories of his not-quite-youth. Flash back to the present day, and Ted (Josh Radnor) is entering his 30s and watching his best friends Marshall (Jason Segal) and Lily (Hannigan) get engaged while his wacky/obnoxious friend Barney (Harris) continues to be wacky and obnoxious. Meanwhile, he’s entering his “I really want to settle down, but I don’t know how” phase.

It’s the same basic concept as Jake in Progress, except that instead of being a suave ladies’ man, Ted is kind of a doofus who has trouble meeting anyone nice without choking or blurting out something embarrassing, NOT THAT I RELATE TO THAT AT ALL THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Actually, pretty much all the characters are doofuses, but in an easy, affable way, rather than a forced, irritating way. As a matter of fact, in my notes (what? You don’t take notes when you watch TV?), I use the word “affable” three times, so that’d probably be my one-word review. It’s not as ringing an endorsement as “oh god, I think I injured myself laughing,” but it’s not “oh god, why am I watching this?” either.

The Formula:
Kitchen Confidential = M*A*S*H + Three’s a Crowd + The Naked Chef

Vaguely based on the Anthony Bourdain memoir that I never got around to reading, Kitchen Confidental follows ex-celebrity chef Jack (Bradley Cooper from Alias) as he tries to make his comeback while avoiding the bad-boy behavior that got him knocked off his perch in the first place. Created by Darren Star, it falls roughly into the same “modern-day Restoration comedy” genre as Sex and the City, but with more boys.

The show is helped by zippy pacing; a reliable comedy strategy is to simply deny the audience any time to think about whether they thought something was funny or not. The ensemble cast does good work in a lot of very busy scenes, although many of them didn’t get much to do in the premiere. Good old-fashioned farce is in short supply on TV these days, though (probably because so many sitcoms are driven by comics who don’t know how to do anything more physical than stand in front of a microphone), so if the characters can find their places in the kitchen and the show doesn’t get too sappy over Jack’s efforts at redemption, it could be a winner.