A very strange thing happened yesterday: as word began to leak that CBS and Warner Bros. had approached Hugh Grant about replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” a bunch of my fellow TV critics took to Twitter, e-mail, instant messaging and possibly even some ancient social media device called a telephone to expression some variation on the phrase, “Huh. I might actually have to watch that show now.”
You could have counted me among those, as it was both such a surprising choice (who expects to see Hugh Grant on an American sitcom?) and yet a perfect one, since Grant plays cads so well (see “About a Boy”) but is only occasionally asked to do so.
Alas, things didn’t work out with Grant. Tonight, the news broke that the actual man who would be Sheen is Ashton Kutcher, and this time the reaction from many of my bretheren was more along the lines of “Ugh. Now I never need to watch again.”
And on that level, I agree with them. Ashton Kutcher is not going to turn me into a regular “Two and a Half Men” viewer all of a sudden going into the ninth season.
But that’s missing the point. Though I’m not particularly excited to see Kutcher gaming attractive but dumb women and laughing wryly at Jon Cryer (or some other minor variation on the Charlie Harper character), I actually think he’s a great fit for the show – in at least one way, significantly better than Grant.
Like Sheen, Kutcher brings a certain tabloid notoriety to the gig. His celebrity is more a matter of having married a very famous, and much older actress – if there was a period where he was regularly getting in trouble in the press, I’ve long since forgotten – but I think filling Sheen’s shoes is easier when you bring in somebody who’s more than just a good comic actor. (Grant, on the other hand, had both the fame and the scandal, but, again, oh well.)
And Kutcher is a good comic actor – specifically, a good sitcom actor. He did, after all, spend 7 seasons as a regular on “That ’70s Show,” which was not only quite funny in its early days (before it began repeating the same half-dozen jokes over and over), but which made clear quite early that both Kutcher and Topher Grace had the chops to go onto bigger things. The movies haven’t entirely worked out for Kutcher (though “No Strings Attached” was a success earlier this year), but he’s very comfortable in this format – far more than Grant would be, at least initially – and has proven in the past that he can excel in it.
I can absolutely see him doing most of what Sheen did, and doing it well. In some ways, bringing in a younger guy still at the peak of his handsomeness makes a Charlie Harper-type character (which we all assume he’d be playing) make even more sense while still being funny. Kutcher can be a d-bag who’s irresistible to women and feels superior to Alan. Easy.
Will Kutcher’s presence reinvent the show? No. But that’s not the point. From CBS’ perspective, “Men” needs no reinvention. It was the biggest comedy hit on television and a license to print money before Sheen had his final meltdown. They need Kutcher to come in and hang onto that audience that enjoyed the show for what it was, even if many people found it skeevy, or misogynist, or lazily crude, or whatever. If he happens to bring in some of his Twitter followers – particularly on the younger end of the demopgrahic – swell, but if a Kutcher-fronted “Men” can come close to the ratings the show was pulling with Sheen, it’s a huge victory for all involved on the network and studio levels.
I would have definitely sampled a Hugh Grant version of “Men” for a while, but this is not a show that was ever meant to please the critics first (or at all). “Men” with Kutcher likely won’t be a drastic change from “Men” with Sheen, and that’s exactly what CBS needs.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org