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TELEVISION REVIEW

‘Mad Love’ is a romance off to a rocky start

From left: Sarah Chalke, Jason Biggs, Tyler Labine, and Judy Greer play four New Yorkers, two who are falling in love and two who hate each other. From left: Sarah Chalke, Jason Biggs, Tyler Labine, and Judy Greer play four New Yorkers, two who are falling in love and two who hate each other. (Sonja Flemming/Cbs)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 14, 2011

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In the first moments of CBS’s new sitcom “Mad Love,’’ you may feel like you’re watching a spoof of “How I Met Your Mother.’’ “Mad Love’’ star Jason Biggs looks remarkably similar to Josh Radnor of “HIMYM,’’ and the show’s voice-over — “Do you believe in fairy tales?’’ — recalls the “HIMYM’’ father talking to his kids. And then there’s Sarah Chalke, who was on “HIMYM,’’ against a New York backdrop.

Two slapping scenes later, you know you’ve entered the not-so-wonderful world of network TV cloning. “Mad Love,’’ which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4, is so clearly modeled after “HIMYM,’’ which precedes it, that you may find yourself waiting for Barney to appear at the show’s bar. The romantic tones of the two sitcoms — love as fate — are almost identical. As if anxious about the fact that “HIMYM,’’ now in its sixth season, can’t go on much longer, CBS is trying to extend the magic with a copycat.

I get it, because “How I Met Your Mother’’ is one of my favorite sitcoms. There are a lot worse shows out there to emulate. But based on tonight’s premiere, “Mad Love’’ is much too familiar to fully enjoy. You may find yourself wondering if the show was created cynically, without inspiration, simply to match the shows around it and fill out a Monday night comedy block.

It’s too bad, because I don’t think “Mad Love’’ was born in a factory. There’s a lot of promise in the series, which was developed by Matt Tarses, whose credits include “Scrubs’’ and “Sports Night.’’ The concept involves four New Yorkers, two who are falling in love and two who hate each other in that sparky might-be-love kind of way. Biggs and Chalke are Ben and Kate, who meet on the top of the Empire State Building — very “An Affair to Remember’’ — and feel an instant charge. As they pursue their attraction, his friend Larry (Tyler Labine) and her friend Connie (Judy Greer) toss insults at each other. Her: “Are you happy with your beard?’’ Him: “Are you happy with yours?’’

The casting is excellent. Biggs projects enough sincerity to be a guy ready to find the love of his life, and Chalke is, as always, frenetic and endearing. They make a likable romantic pair, and Labine (from “Reaper’’) and Greer are nicely in synch as the secondary and more overtly comic characters. Labine, by the way, delivers the voice-over; the story is told from Larry’s slightly warped perspective. Another character, Tiffany (Sarah Wright) lurks on the periphery — she’s the helpless mother of two for whom Connie is the nanny — and she made me laugh.

If “Mad Love’’ pushes toward a more distinctive identity and grows beyond TV’s standard two-couple romantic situations, there may be hope. And in the grim world of network comedy, hope isn’t a bad place to start.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

MAD LOVE

Starring: Sarah Chalke, Jason Biggs, Tyler Labine, Judy Greer

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9