(Brief reviews of new fall shows, usually based on only the first episode, which may or may not be a fair way to judge a show. Deal with it.)
“How I Met Your Mother,” Mondays (CBS). This one feels very sitcom-y to me, very set-up/punchline, very laugh-tracky. (I hate when you can tell the laughter is fake. The sound of real people really laughing? Beautiful. But real laughter being “sweetened” with extra pre-recorded mirth? Fingernails on a chalkboard.) But it’s not a bad show. The premise is that in the future, a man is telling his kids how he met their mother. The show is set in the present, with the man’s future self narrating (sort of how “The Wonder Years” worked, remember?). The man himself is likable enough, and his best friend and the best friend’s new fiancee are fine. But the really good character is in the No. 4 position, the Kramer slot, and he’s played by Neil Patrick Harris (aka Doogie Howser). He’s a fun-loving ladies-man type who always dresses in a suit and who often demands that others do the same. (“Meet me at the bar in 15 minutes!” he’ll exclaim on the phone. “And suit up!”) Most of my chuckles in the pilot episode were inspired by Doogie. Other than that, it’s only so-so, but worth checking out.
“Kitchen Confidential,” Mondays (Fox). Anything’s a letdown if it comes right after “Arrested Development,” but this comedy gives it the ol’ college try. It’s about a chef (played by the guy who played Will on “Alias”) who has just been hired at a swanky restaurant, and his crew of cooks and assistants, and all the wacky goings-on behind the scenes of a fine dining establishment. Some good underplayed laughs in the premiere (no studio audience; less “hey, look, we just made a joke!” shenanigans), and while I wasn’t completely thrilled with it, I’ll be returning the next couple weeks because I think it has some good potential, now that the exposition is out of the way.
“My Name Is Earl,” Tuesdays (NBC). We have a winner! Here’s the funniest new comedy of the season. It stars Jason Lee as a white-trash lowlife who begins to examine his life and, hoping to set things straight karma-wise, goes about undoing all the bad things he’s ever done in his life. He has a good ol’ boy brother to help him, and a dirtbag ex-wife to hinder him. It’s all set in a nameless podunk town where people live in trailers and spend every night in bars, and it’s a sharply funny show. (“Some people might think getting so drunk you accidentally marry a woman that’s six months pregnant is a good reason to stop drinking,” Earl says. “Personally, I think it’s a good reason to KEEP drinking.” Or this line: “There’s no use running! I know where your mama parks your house!”) It’s also surprisingly sweet and good-natured, being, after all, about a man trying to do some good in the world. This one’s been added to the TiVo.