On Monday, I intentionally watched Two and a Half Men for the first time (I'd seen it once before at the gym and couldn't escape). I was curious, from a writing standpoint, to see how they would jettison Charlie Sheen's character -- also named Charlie -- after eight seasons on the air, and introduce Ashton Kutcher's character (to record ratings, apparently).
We cold open with Charlie's closed-casket funeral, where a bunch of his ex-girlfriends hold court, excoriating the deceased by listing the variety of venereal diseases Charlie gave them before kicking off. It's revealed that his demise came about in Paris; he was pushed in front of a train and his "body exploded like a bag of meat."
To this, er, surprising revelation, the Half-Man, now a teen at this point in the show's run, pipes up with, "Is anyone else hungry, or is it just me?" [Cue theme song!]
OKAY WAIT. I get that this was series creator Chuck Lorre's turn to bash Charlie Sheen. I soooo get that, but, BUT. Is this really how the character is written off, after eight years? And is this really the kid's reaction to his uncle's murder? He's not even remotely troubled by this information, content instead to deliver a zinger in the teaser.
Charlie's brother (played by Jon Cryer/Ducky) is similarly unconcerned. As for Charlie's mom, she pretends to be mournful for about three seconds, but it's all just a set-up to another punch(me) line; she wants to make a commission by selling Charlie's house as soon as possible.
Dudes, this is America's #1 comedy.
I guess it's just not my kind of humor. Or maybe I've been spoiled by the likes of Arrested Development and How I Met Your Mother and can no longer abide so-called traditional, three-camera sitcoms.
For me, the best sitcoms -- Mary Tyler Moore, Cheers, Cosby, Murphy Brown, etc. -- always had a little bit of heart injected between jokes, those occasional moments of poignancy that are even more effective precisely because they stand in contrast to the humor. Sure, Seinfeld was populated by a bunch of selfish (funny) jerks, but you still believed they were Friends.* Their behavior was still traceable to that of Human Beings on Earth.
A more modern example of three-dimensional characters might be Louis CK's half-hour show on FX, which, while not a traditional sitcom, is, to me, the epitome of hilarious realism. The characters I saw on Two and Half Men weren't even trying to be flesh-and-blood people.
Anyway, continuing on through the next scene: Dharma & Greg (?!) make a random cameo, as does John Stamos, and then we're treated to a couple of fart jokes between Grandma and Half-Man. After that, Jon Cryer chats to Charlie's urn of ashes for a while, trying to figure out where to spread them.
Enter Ashton. The audience whoops like it's the 1970s and he's the Fonze. Speaking of, I actually liked Ashton on That '70s Show. (But I digress. Summarizing this episode makes me want to digress a lot.) ANYWAY, Ashton's appearance at the window startles Cryer, who flings Charlie's ashes in the air, where, he's sure to point out, they'll be Dust Bustered later. Wa-wa.
Ashton's character is suicidal, a heartbroken internet billionaire who becomes insta-pals with Cryer/Ducky. You see, Ashton tried to drown himself in the ocean but the water was cold. After a night of drinking, which ends in a threesome for Ashton, starring a couple of interchangeable bimbos who think it's sexy that he's sad, Ashton gets naked and blurred (for the second time) and hugs Cryer, just as Cryer's son walks in. It is hilarious.** Then Ashton decides to buy Cryer's house, thus saving the set from being torn down.
To be continued...
(Not me. That's what it said onscreen at the end of the episode. "To be continued..." But I'll just have to live with the fact that I'll never know what happens.)
Did anyone else tune in to the premiere? And for those who regularly watch, what am I missing? Is it usually better? I'm willing to be convinced.
* A show which may have had too much heart in the last few seasons. I definitely suffered Ross/Rachel fatigue by the end
** It's not hilarious