CBS' “Two and a Half Men” ended on Thursday (February 19) night after 12 seasons and a whopping 262 episodes.
It was a show that relied heavily on puns and hack dirty jokes, a sitcom that went on far too long — between five years and 12 years, depending on who you ask — and ground a premise that was almost impossible to logically justify into the ground.
But don't take my word for it.
Ask “Two and a Half Men”!
Thursday's two-part “Of Course He's Dead” finale may not have been great art, but it was an amusingly self-conscious conclusion built around an unfulfilled promise that at least punished the principals responsible for that unfulfilled promise. And if a finale featuring two people crushed by pianos isn't love, it'll have to do until the real thing comes along. [In other news, the series finale of “Parks and Recreation” is less than a week away and I somehow assume it will be the real thing.]
More after the break, as I quickly realize that I don't write about “Two and a Half Men” very often because what's the point of writing about “Two and a Half Men”?
The big question going into the “Two and a Half Men” finale — the only question, really — was whether or not Charlie Sheen's Charlie Harper would return. Yes, I guess some people may have wondered if Angus T. Jones' Halfman Harper would return, but who really figured that there would be difficulties getting Angus T. Jones back for a cameo?
And, from the opening sequence, the episode was designed as nothing but a tease, as we discovered that Melanie Lynskey's Rose had been keeping somebody trapped in a well in the basement of a house in the nice part of Sherman Oaks, somebody who she was feeding and bathing with an industrial hose and periodically providing with clean bowling shirts.
As this was introduced, Alan was discovering that Charlie had a massive royalty check from his music publisher — appropriately $2.5 million — and he could get it as next-of-kin, provided that he could show a death certificate. But nobody had a death certificate. You know why? See previous paragraph. And, next thing you knew, the royalty check had been routed to a Cayman Islands account and strange and threatening packages and letters and texts started showing up for Alan and Walden and Evelyn.
But the mysteriously absent stranger wasn't merely threatening people he hated. [Why threaten Alan? “”He didn't think I could go on without him. He thought I was more of a supporting character in his life, but it turns out I was more of a co-lead.”] He was also sending money to the former lovers he wronged and also to his daughter and… Son!
Yes, Angus T. Jones arrived and very quickly things got meta, especially since the young actor who left the show for college and due to conflicting religious beliefs, arrived looking an awful lot like a certain Jewish carpenter. [No. Not Harrison Ford.]
Jake received $250,000 from Charlie, but turned it into $2.5 million in Vegas playing craps, one of several dirty words that made him giggle.
“Amazing that you made so much money with such stupid jokes.” Walden says. And everybody looks at the camera and stares.
[Walden had previously broken the fourth wall with the declaration, “I can't wait for this to be over.”]
Jake, it turns out, is living in Japan with a wife and kids. That's just if you needed closure.
Jake: “She's a dancer.”
Alan: “Let me guess, a pole dancer?”
Jake: “No. She's Japanese.”
And everybody looks into the camera, again.
Yeah, there was a lot of that in this episode. Rose arrived to explain Charlie's not-so-dead status, but when they ask her to start at the beginning, she replies, “You mean from the pilot?”
Tee-hee. Oh, Melanie Lynskey. So fantastic on “Togetherness” and in “Happy Christmas.” This return was mostly a chance to remind us of how she was underused on “Two and a Half Men” for so long.
An entirely spirited and amusing computer animated sequence showed how Rose and Charlie's honeymoon was interrupted by Charlie's threesome with a woman and mime and a goat and that it was the goat smushed by the passing train. The sequence featured an animated Charlie, but a wordless animated Charlie.
In case this was all becoming too convoluted, Alan and Walden had to go to local law enforcement to get protection from Charlie, which required them to explain the entire plot of the series to a Lieutenant Wagner (pronounced the German way) and played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I can only assume this is because the only way to have the plot of “Two and a Half Men” sound sillier is to have it recounted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Or maybe somebody liked the idea that Arnold Schwarzenegger's son is, I believe, currently dating Miley Cyrus, who formerly played a character who dated Halfman Harper.]
This yielded dialogue like the discussion of how Alan and his dumb son came to be living with Charlie.
Alan: “He wasn't dumb at the beginning. He got dumb later on.”
Wagner: “What happened?”
Alan: “Well, turned out it was funnier.”
And Wagner's suggestion that they really ought to wrap up their whole living situation.
Wagner: “This whole thing has been going on way too long.”
Alan: “Yeah, a lot of people have been saying that.”
Walden: “Haters gonna hate.”
Ultimately, Charlie Harper became the “Two and a Half Men” equivalent of The Viper in the classic “G.I. Joe” episode “The Viper Is Coming,” in which the entire military force mobilizes against the coming of a threatening force called The Viper, only…
But in this case, The Viper was “Charlie,” seen only from behind, arriving at the door of the house only to… GET CRUSHED BY A PIANO.
Pull back… Executive Producer Chuck Lorre is sitting in a “Chuck Lorre” director's chair.
“Winning,” he says.
AND THEN HE GETS CRUSHED BY A PIANO.
And that was how the series ended.
The joke, I guess, is that in the aftermath of everything going all higgledy-piggledy between Lorre and Sheen, Sheen professed that he was winning and Lorre professed that he could replace Sheen with Ashton Kutcher, but nobody actually won because they both got crushed until the piano of pride? Except that Charlie Sheen's career has barely been impacted and he bilked FX for 100 episodes of the dire “Anger Management,” while Lorre got four additional seasons of one of the great syndicated cash cows in of the past 25 years. So they both got crushed by pianos, but neither of them actually lost. The only people who lost were fans who watched an hour of the “Two and a Half Men” finale waiting for Charlie Sheen only to see a body double get flattened by a baby grand.
[Even the biggest Sheen fans know that Lorre is the big winner here. In addition to the four additional seasons of “Men,” Lorre still EPs TV's most popular comedy in the Emmy-winning “The Big Bang Theory,” a very successful long-running Emmy winner in “Mike & Molly” and also the damn good “Mom,” which is an Emmy winner and the best comedy in CBS' stable.]
A few other meta treats from Thursday's “Two and a Half Men” finale:
*** Playing himself? John Stamos, as John Stamos banging Judy Greer's character. “Stamos, you're just a handsome guy who got lucky on a sitcom.” a resentful Walden said.
*** Playing himself? Christian Slater as Christian Slater drugged by Charlie and redressed in a Charlie bowling shirt to be arrested by Wagner.
*** Did I mention that “Togetherness” star Melanie Lynskey began the episode bringing food — tuna on toast and vodka — to Charlie while singing “Happy Together”?
*** The animated sequence ending with Porky Pig in lingerie uttering his famous “That's All Folks,” followed by the Warner Brothers logo.
*** And, yes, all of that stuff about Walden reading reports of Charlie's disagreement with a former employer and then Charlie's deranged tiger-blood-filled message to Walden? Yeah. We got it.
*** Chuck Lorre's last title card explained Charlie Sheen's absence from the finale. I didn't transcribe it, but other folks did.
As I said on Twitter after early East Coast tweets encouraged me to bother watching the finale, I didn't love the “Two and a Half Men” finale, but I didn't regret tuning in.
The fact is that as much as many folks in my line of work liked to mock “Two and a Half Men,” it won nine Emmys and earned three Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy nominations. Does that say more about the silliness of Emmy voters in that period than the show itself? Perhaps on some counts, but not entirely. “Two and a Half Men” may have kept Melanie Lynskey from better things for a long time, but it did well by Jon Cryer and it wasn't a bad vehicle for Sheen, Holland Taylor, Conchata Ferrell and a number of other supporting performers. There have always been worse comedies than “Two and a Half Men,” but they happened not to be as successful as “Two and a Half Men” and so we made jokes about “Two and a Half Men” sometimes. Even limping off into the sunset this season, “Two and a Half Men” has still been drawing several times more viewers than things like “New Girl,” “The Mindy Project” and “Parks and Recreation,” plus more viewers than entirely successful network comedies like “The Goldbergs” or “Black-ish.”
So “Two and a Half Men” was a huge hit and an Emmy winner. And I didn't much like it, but lots of people did. And the finale made me chuckle a couple times in an hour and they crushed a Charlie Sheen proxy with a piano.
What'd you think?