Thursday, September 22, 2011

There Are No Second Acts in American Lives (Unless You're "Two and a Half Men"?)

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 MooreCheersCosbyMurphy 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


  1. hahahaha wow that's kind of intense even for American sitcom. Only Family Guy gets away with that stuff (graphically too)

  2. Thanks for watching this so I don't have to. I'm willing to bet this recap is funnier than the episode. I sat through a couple of episodes of this back in the Charlie Sheen years and was dumbfounded by the zero times I laughed. Zero.

    'Louie' on the other hand, I just started watching, and so far am really liking!

  3. I do not watch the show, but I tuned in for pretty much the same reasons you did. I thought it was appalling. I understand it was the exec producer's response to all the Charlie Sheen hoo-ha but still! I guess the audience (who, for this show, have got to be on the same wavelength as pre-pubescent boys) can't separate an actor from the character he plays on a TV show. Unfortunate. But even if I could accept that it was a "gotcha" half-hour "moment" for Chuck Lorre, it just wasn't funny. Not at all. It was puerile, predictable, and just plain dumb. The audience has been watching for eight seasons. Watching Charlie/Charlie. If for no other reason, the character deserved a better send off. Not that anyone cares, but I will never watch again. (Meanwhile, I still laugh like hell at "Frasier" reruns.)

  4. Sophia, the weird thing is, it wasn't intense at all -- it was strangely bland and, I think, the blandness is what makes it so popular?

    Sarv, my pleasure! That's my motto: I watch so you don't have to :)

    Janegirl, thanks so much for your comment! I agree 100%. (And I think pre-pubescent boys are actually more sophisticated than this. What I can't figure out is, who watches this show? 28 million people, apparently, but who are they?)

  5. I watched the premiere too. I've seen episodes here and there of the show but have never been that interested in committing to it. I like Ashton Kutcher so that's what got me curious again.

    I wasn't impressed either. And can I just say that I love that you still refer to Jon Cryer as Ducky. That's totally how I'll always think of him too.

  6. Thanks, Roni! Yeah, I can still picture Jon Cryer in his '80s hat, dancing and lipsyncing ;)

  7. I'm so glad I missed that!

    Yes, that kind of "humor" does NOTHING for me. I'd rather be in my happy place, tapping away at my keyboard, thankyouverymuch.

    Great post! (saved me from having to watch the reruns--HA!)