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.