I am simply shocked about Hell’s Kitchen returning Thursday night. I knew it was coming. I’ve known for a long time that it was going to premiere Thursday, but I’m still pretty shocked that it did. It was a summer show, and then last year, because of the writers’ strike it was a late spring show, and now, apparently, it’s a winter show. That, to me, is weird.

I was thrilled to see however that they’d made some decent tweaks here in the fifth season. First off, rather than doing a big long introduction to the standard first challenge issued to the contestants, which is where Gordon tells them to make their signature dish for him, the show jumped right into the challenge itself within the first minute of the show. It meant that a lot was edited out and the show went without a big introduction, but I think it worked really well, particularly for this show which, every time it comes back from commercial, insists on replaying the last 45 seconds (or so) of what happened before the break.

Last season the series was definitely feeling a little bit stale. The contestants were horrifically bad, there was little drama, and all the challenges seemed to be the same old thing we saw the year before (and the year before and the year before). To toss that out a little bit and rework the formula slightly seems like a good move for a show in its fifth season, particularly a reality show, and a reality show that FOX believes in enough to not just move up from the summer, but to launch in a post-Idol timeslot.

In terms of numbers, the show came in second place in the time period, behind CSI, but I don’t think anyone ever figured that Hell’s Kitchen was going to take down CBS’s premiere franchise. Some of Kitchen‘s numbers are going to be the post-Idol bounce and some are going to be additional tune-in for the premiere, but the show does still seem to be doing just fine. Hopefully the producers tweak the formula for the series throughout the rest of the season, adding a little bit more spice to a show that was getting bland.

I was terribly concerned last night at one thing however – Ramsay didn’t yell at the opening of the show anywhere near as much as he should have and he liked the vast majority of the signature dishes he tasted. The announcer had already told us that this year’s contestants were the strongest ever, so he may have been told by the producers to like things more because it would help add credibility to that notion. That seems like the most likely explanation.

I just hope it’s not a harbinger of Ramsay going soft on us, that’s definitely not a “tweak” I’d like to see the show make. In the end, we’re watching Hell’s Kitchen to see Ramsay yell and scream and curse and get angry; it’s not one of those nice-spirited cooking contest shows like Last Restaurant Standing. Plus, if Ramsay goes soft they can’t call it Hell’s Kitchen anymore, they’d have to change the name to Not Terribly Mean Kitchen.