The idiot male and the put-upon wife. The desperate single sibling or the annoying old folks. The kids scattered about like cheese-curl crumbs. The disdain and dismay. The bickering and the bitching. In short, the modern family sitcom — and the reasons I watch very few modern family sitcoms.
Two and a Half Men fares better with its variation on a theme (call it Bringing Up Bachelor). Here the clueless dude who begrudgingly loves his family is Charlie (Charlie Sheen in his first sitcom outing since ”Spin City”), a boozing womanizer who opens his home to his nerdy, newly dumped brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and Alan’s 10-year-old son (a thankfully unprecious Angus T. Jones). With Cryer in the wifely (i.e., killjoy) role and Holland Taylor doing double duty as the brothers’ cloying mother who also happens to be a wild single gal, ”Two and a Half”’s setup ain’t edgy, but its humor is a tad more genial — brotherly ribbing as opposed to bad-tempered potshots. Its one nasty spot revolves around, unsurprisingly, women: In addition to Taylor, who reprises her saucy sexagenarian role for like the sexagenarianth time, the other female regulars are Alan’s estranged, sexually exploring wife (Marin Hinkle), a spiteful, chilly pill who may be gay, and a neighbor girl who’s stalking Charlie (Melanie Lynskey, who, I’ll admit, makes mild insanity adorable).
Still, this is a show about men (the theme song — which goes something like ”menmenmenmen” — warns us as much), and in recent episodes ”Two and a Half” has wisely scaled back on gender warfare and played more with the yo-yo between its Felix and Oscar (or Kate and Allie). Cryer, the epitome of weenie vulnerability in numerous TV and movie roles, has honed this vibe to make Alan a likable — if overshadowed and underconfident — twerp. Sheen, with his casually vulpine persona, is nearly impossible not to enjoy. Maybe it’s the residual goodwill from ”Hot Shots!”, but he’s able to sell the broadest of gags, like the following exchange, when Alan meets Charlie’s old flame: ”Poker buddy?” Alan asks. ”Used to,” Sheen answers with his glaze-eyed gaze. In honor of the show’s fondness for fractions, I say that’s easily a laugh and a half.