An absent Charlie Sheen stole the ninth-season premiere of Two and a Half Men from Ashton Kutcher without showing up. Much of the half hour was taken up with Charlie Harper jokes. He’d died in France, hit by a train; the early line “his body exploded like a balloon full of meat,” crafted by four writers including Chuck Lorre, made sure there was scant sentimentality over Charlie’s departure — Harper or Sheen. Kutcher made his entrance as the setup to an old sitcom standby, the someone-spilling-cremated-ashes joke. The spilling was done by Jon Cryer’s Alan, surprised at seeing a soaking-wet Walden Schmidt (Kutcher) appearing at the Malibu house window.
Kutcher’s performance was good, nearly as poker-faced fine as Sheen’s was. (Beware of the impending revisionism that Kutcher is superior to Sheen as a comic actor — Sheen really had a knack for this gig, and was a generous reactor to Cryer. Kutcher will probably prove just as skilled.) As you may have heard, Kutcher’s character is a bereft billionaire; what you may not have heard is that Walden is “hung like an elephant,” something he proved a number of times by supposedly walking around naked. (Camera angles and pixelation, as well as shrieks from the studio audience, were meant to imply that Kutcher was really nekkid, but I somehow doubt it, don’t you?)
What may have gotten lost in the media shuffle that Two and a Half Men has occupied in pop culture over the past year or so is that this is quite a crappy little show. Given the urgency and wildness that Sheen’s departure bestowed upon it, the show lacked these energizing qualities on Monday night. Cryer is such a canny actor that he sold the brief moment when Alan addressed Charlie’s urn with a degree of earnestness rare for the show, but of course was also enough of a pro to then deliver the immediate, curdling punchlines that decimated the “tender” moment.
The first half of the episode was devoted to cameos by some of Charlie’s former romantic dalliances (including Jenny McCarthy, Liz Vassey, and Jeri Ryan) and guest stars dropping by to see the beach house when it was briefly up for sale (John Stamos; Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson reprising their Dharma and Greg characters). In the grand low tradition of Men, there were fart jokes and punchlines about genital warts. The idea behind all this was to make sure we felt the door hitting Charlie Sheen’s backside as Chuck Lorre slammed the coffin down, hard. (Pun probably, I don’t know, intended.)
By the end of the evening, Walden had decided to buy the house, Angus T. Jones’ Jake had put in a few minutes of face time to justify the show’s title, and Alan had admitted, in a typically pathetic-Alan way, that he had “masturbated and cried myself to sleep” even as Walden had had sex with two women.
It’s easy to see how Kutcher is going to fit into the ensemble. He’s part-contrast-to-Charlie (he ordered ginger ale, not liquor, while out at a bar with Alan), and part-Charlie-2.0 (he beds women with ease, but in a nice, horny-puppy-dog kind of way).
Welcome to Charlie Sheen’s world, Ashton Kutcher. You’re living the dream.