What I learned from Sheen-less Two and Half Men: TV producers always get the last word
More anticipated than the start of hockey season and twice as dangerous, Monday night’s return of CBS’ hit Two and Half Men mostly served as an half-hour long argument for why you should never snark off a powerful TV comedy writer.
Because they always get the last, best word.
Creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre made sure of that in writing out fired star Charlie Sheen, starting the episode with a funeral featuring his character, Charlie Harper, surrounded by all the women he’d done wrong in eight seasons of hedonistic, self centered womanizing. Talk about art imitating life.
Thanks to the high profile of this debut, Lorre could stack the cast with guest stars including Battlestar Galactica alum Tricia Helfer, current Body of Proof star Jeri Ryan and Jenny McCarthy, who got the best line: “Let’s see the body..I didn’t come all this way to spit on a closed coffin.”
As Jon Cryer’s character Alan Harper told the story, Sheen’s Charlie Harper asked former stalker Rose to marry him, cheated on her and then mysteriously fell in front of a train. “His body exploded like a balloon full of meat,” cracked Rose (Melanie Lynskey), decked out in black.
When even the character’s mother tries to use her grief to sell funeral attendees his thrice-mortgaged house, you know there’s no sympathy left in the room.
Which is why Monday’s episode felt like one big, passive aggressive swipe at the show’s former star – a way for Lorre to get back at Sheen for all the insults lobbed publicly during his manic disintegration earlier this year.
Most sitcom funerals are played for pathos and sentiment. But the characters here could barely wait to dust off the ash from Charlie Harper’s cremated remains – yes, Cryer’s Alan drops them in a pivotal scene – with a thinly disguised haste meant mostly for Sheen’s legacy on the show.
Lorre also managed a couple of cute cameos, with John Stamos stopping by to see Harper’s house, along with alums from Lorre’s old show Dharma and Greg, Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson. None of these visits were particularly funny; mostly just a reminder of Lorre’s reach and an in-joke nod for those cool enough to know his IMDB credits.
Somehow, in the middle of all this, Ashton Kutcher was expected to impress as Walden Schmidt, a lovesick, divorcing Internet billionaire who tries to drown himself in front of Harper’s house and winds up bonding with Alan.
You know within moments that Schmidt will buy the house; that’s Sitcom 101. You don’t expect that he would do so after walking around the place in the nude, giving CBS censors a chance to work their pixilating equipment to the maximum.
And just in case you didn’t catch how Lorre was showing off his buff new star – who happens to be 13 years younger than Sheen – Cryer’s Alan delivered a crack about how well-endowed Schmidt is.
Not so subtle, perhaps. But effective.
Coupled with the broadcast of Sheen’s Comedy Central roast one hour later -- “Don’t bother switching over (to see the fake funeral),” host Seth MacFarlane cracked Monday, “just wait a few months and you can see the real thing.” – Sheen’s descent to showbiz purgatory is nearly complete.
And Lorre sets a powerful example of what can happen when you mess with the wrong producer.