By Jeff Labrecque
Updated September 20, 2011 at 07:00 PM EDT
Ashton Men
Credit: Danny Feld/CBS

If CBS was worried yesterday about the future of Two and Half Men post-Charlie Sheen, they are breathing easily today. A huge audience of 27.7 million tuned in to see Ashton Kutcher make his celebrated debut on the show’s season 9 premiere last night. But as EW’s Ken Tucker points out, Sheen’s presence still dominated the proceedings — and it wasn’t just because of his character’s demise.

Ridicule Sheen, ridicule Two and a Half Men, ridicule its popularity, but you can’t overlook the role of Sheen’s innate Sheenism in making the show a ratings force. Though Kutcher wields his own supersized off-screen persona and brings his own brand of humor, it remains to be seen whether he can replicate the easy on-screen chemistry with Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones that made the show successful. Last night was a reminder that, despite all his flaws, Sheen was and is a deft comic actor. The material may not be Shakespeare (or even Modern Family), but Sheen’s performance over eight seasons might not have been as easy as he made it look. Sheen always gave Charlie Harper’s lines a chance, even the ones that you saw coming a mile away.

Kutcher has his own gifts, but perhaps — curiosity-enhanced initial ratings notwithstanding — this won’t be as simple as subbing one dynamic celebrity for another. Kutcher and the Men team deserve to celebrate today, but I don’t think they’re home free just yet.

Did Kutcher’s debut reassure you that Two and Half Men has cracked the code for replacing Sheen? Or do you think Sheen’s shoes will ultimately prove more difficult to replace, once the novelty of Kutcher’s addition wears off? Vote below:

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Episode Recaps

Two and a Half Men | Monday, 8-8:30 p.m., CBS The warlock has left the building. With the spectacular, bridge-burning, jumping-down-?the-inflatable-?emergency-slide exit of Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men…

Two and a Half Men

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  • 9
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  • CBS
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