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 hourlong argument for why you should never snark off a powerful TV comedy writer.
Because they always get the last, best word.
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.
Lorre stacked the cast with guest stars including Battlestar Galactica alumna 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 in Paris, 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 sell funeral attendees his thrice-mortgaged house, you know there's no sympathy left.
Which is why Monday's episode felt like one big, passive aggressive swipe at the show's former star — payback for all the insults Sheen lobbed publicly during his manic disintegration.
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 — Cryer's Alan drops them in a pivotal scene — with a thinly disguised haste meant mostly for Sheen's legacy on the show.
There were cute cameos: John Stamos stopped by to see Harper's house, along with alums from Lorre's old show Dharma and Greg, Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson. It wasn't particularly funny; mostly just an in-joke nod for those cool enough to know Lorre's IMDB credits.
Somehow, Ashton Kutcher made an impression as Walden Schmidt, a lovesick, divorcing Internet billionaire who tries to drown himself in front of Harper's house and bonds with Alan.
You know within moments Schmidt will buy the house; that's Sitcom 101. You don't expect he would do so after walking around the place in the nude, giving CBS censors a chance to work their pixilating equipment to the max.
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.