‘Two and a Half Men’ – Good riddance, Charlie Harper

CBS kept the “Two and a Half Men” season premiere – the first episode of the series with Ashton Kutcher, and perhaps more importantly, the first without Charlie Sheen – under careful wraps, to heighten anticipation and increase tune-in. (And based on some early morning tweets from CBS execs, it worked.) Fienberg offered his review of the premiere last night, and I have a few thoughts about how this whole affair continues to unfold coming up just as soon as I buy a Zune…

In terms of the general tenor of humor, “Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt” felt pretty much like every other episode of “Two and a Half Men” that I’ve seen over the years: unrepentantly crude and/or cruel(*), with most of the jokes at the expense of Jon Cryer’s Alan. And when Kutcher turned up as naive billionaire Walden Schmidt, most of the jokes were about the size of his package. (Alan, complaining, “One-point-three billion, and he’s hung like an elephant!”)

(*) I felt sad for a moment that Chuck Lorre brought in Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson as Dharma and Greg (he co-created that show, too) just to suggest that their marriage had become horrible and stifling, given how sunny and happy I remembered that show being. But the more I thought about it – specifically, the more I thought about the show’s unpleasant later seasons (before I eventually stopped watching) – the more I realized that this is probably what those two would be like had they stayed married for 15 years. “Opposites attract” makes for a great beginning to a romantic story, but day after day, year after year can be tough.  

Kutcher showed for years on “That ’70s Show” that the multi-camera sitcom format is an arena he can thrive in, and he seemed fine in his half of the episode. He’s not going to transform “Men” into a show I want to watch, but he fit in very well.

What was most interesting to me was how the show delayed Kutcher’s intro until halfway through the episode, and spent that time taking a variety of cheap shots at Charlie Harper, who died in embarrassing fashion and whose funeral was largely an excuse for the show’s many familiar female guest stars to complain about him.

On the one hand, Charlie was the center of the show for eight seasons, and there’s something to be said for not immediately jumping ahead to the new guy’s arrival. On the other, there are fans of the show (several of them represented by the comments to Fienberg’s post) who feel like Charlie Sheen was the show, that he’s somehow blameless in this whole ugly divorce, that all of his gross, drug-abusing and women-abusing behavior is acceptable under the banner of “boys will be boys,” etc. And some of those people may have just sworn the show off altogether after Sheen was canned, but I imagine many of them tuned in last night out of curiosity about how the show will be without their man. (Those big overnight numbers weren’t made up entirely of new fans.) And to those people – and people somewhere in between, who maybe think Sheen is a jerk but wish he was still on the show – the funeral scene and many of the scenes that followed must have played out as a big eff-you to them as much as to Sheen.

I understand that Lorre and the other writers are mad at the guy who nearly killed their golden goose, who mercilessly attacked them in public for months after the ugly divorce(**), and who’s done his best to drive the narrative that there’s no show without him. So I understand why they’d want to get some payback by sending off Charlie Harper – who was, for all intents and purposes, always treated as Charlie Sheen’s slightly tamer alter ego – in as undignified a fashion as possible.

(**) And whose attempt to wish them well at the Emmys couldn’t have come across as more phony or calculated.

But for the future of the show – whether the intention is to milk a couple of years out of Kutcher, or to try to keep the cash cow grazing along well past the point where Jake’s old enough to drink legally – I think they would have been better off taking advantage of the presumably huge tune-in of viewers new and old to spend more time on why people should love the new guy rather than why they should be glad to be rid of the old one.

What did everybody else think?