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Review: 'Two and a Half Men' welcomes Kutcher, buries Sheen

Two and a half men review
CBS' cash-cow sitcom "Two and a Half Men" gathered its skirts and trudged into the future Monday night. The coffin over which the camera moved in the opening shot of the series' ninth season contained not just the character that Charlie Sheen had played for eight years, but in a pointedly metaphorical way, Sheen himself. (In a parallel narrative stream, the actual rock star from Mars would get his Comedy Central roast an hour later.)

They had come to bury him, player and played, and hardly to praise him: to sweep out the ashes –- to vacuum them up in a Dust Buster, eventually –- and roll out the carpet for his younger, taller, prettier, buffer and sure-to-be-less troublesome replacement.

"Two and a Half Men" is not a show I found funny, although – as with a Nashville power ballad -- I could see why other people might. Still, it’s pointless to argue with eight seasons of success, just as it was pointless to calculate just how much, or how little, work Sheen, as Charlie Harper, was actually putting in for his weekly $1.8 million, a salary he might have received for many more years, bad behavior and all, had he not taken to biting large chunks from the hand that fed him. You would have to say, technically, that he deserved the money, whether or not he earned it.

Given the show’s past success, it’s no surprise to find it proceeding Sheenless. Jon Cryer, a regular on the Emmy lists, may be the hardest-working man in situation comedy – it certainly feels that way sometimes, watching this show – but I don’t suppose anyone running a network thinks he can carry a show himself. Creator Chuck Lorre’s solution – Ashton Kutcher – seemed a sensible idea from the time it was announced. You would, after all, want to get an actor nothing like the person you want your audience to forget: That is how they rolled on "Cheers," when Shelley Long gave way to Kirstie Alley, and "MASH," when Mike Farrell replaced Wayne Rogers and Harry Morgan took over from McLean Stevenson and David Ogden Stiers followed Larry Linville. And Kutcher has fans of his own, who will be curious to see how he’s used, and what new energy he brings to the mix.

The opening funeral scene –- played to a congregation of old girlfriends and cameo player Martin Mull (who asked for $38,000 he was owed "for some, let’s say, pharmaceuticals") -- hunted for laughs in herpes, chlamydia and vaginal warts. Rose (Melanie Lynskey), Charlie’s stalker-girlfriend (and killer, it’s implied), noted their "ups and downs and the occasional restraining order."

Later, John Stamos came to see about buying Charlie’s beach house (joke about having sex with Charlie), followed by a bickering Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson, of Lorre’s "Dharma & Greg." Housekeeper Berta (Conchata Ferrell) got a line about "hosing the vomit off the occasional drug-addled hooker."

The halfway point was marked by the sudden appearance of Kutcher at the window, long-haired, bearded and wet. Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt is a tech billionaire who threw himself into the ocean because his wife left him, but dragged himself out again because the water was too cold. "I suppose I could have worn a wetsuit," he told Cryer’s Alan Harper. "But who tries to commit suicide in a wetsuit, right?"

There were some obvious old-school moves; Walden was having sex in Charlie’s bedroom, with two hot girls, before the half hour was up. Still, it was a promising beginnng: Kutcher brings a softness as well as a sense of rude health –- he was naked for much of the show –- to a series that could often be brittle and sour, misanthropic and misogynistic, and temperamentally middle-aged. His presence might allow Cryer to play some sweeter, less strident notes, though it is up to Lorre, of course, to make that, or let that, happen.

It’s too early to tell how this change will involve Angus T. Jones, as the titular half a man. (He turns 18 in October, it seems worth noting.) All he did Monday night was sit on the couch and break wind.

RELATED:

Charlie Sheen extends an olive branch to Ashton Kutcher

Chuck Lorre stays mum on Charlie Sheen

Full Show Tracker coverage of 'Two and a Half Men'

 --Robert Lloyd

 Photo: Angus T. Jones, Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer. Credit: Matt Hoyle/CBS / Warner Brothers.

 
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