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Friday, March 30, 2012

The Trouble With Two and a Half Men

While it would be nice to think that a show can run for several years keeping the same exact cast of characters from start to finish, it usually doesn’t end up that way.

The truth is that the average television show (particularly over the last 20 years or so) has one or more high-profile cast changes during the course of the show’s run.

In many cases, actors and actresses leave on their own accord.  Charlotte Rae left “The Facts Of Life” in 1986, and the show ran until 1988.  Marg Helgenberger recently left “CSI” after nearly eleven seasons.  And Thomas Calabro was the only original cast member of “Melrose Place” to stay on the show’s entire seven season run.

Sometimes, a cast member will pass away during filming.  Jim Davis’ death in 1981 was a sad occurance, but “Dallas” ran without Jock Ewing for ten more seasons.  David Strickland died under unusual circumstances in 1999, which lead to the show “Suddenly Susan” becoming suddenly revamped.  And, the bailiff in “Night Court” was replaced three times, due to the deaths of the two original actresses (Selma Diamond and Florence Halop).

But what happens when an actor gets fired from a show?  What happens then?

In quite a few cases, the show does have to reinvent itself, but manages to continue on for years.  It happened on “The Hogan Family” when Valerie Harper was fired.  She was replaced by Sandy Duncan, and the show ran for four additional years.  I did a blog entry on that situation back in the summer of 2011, if you’re interested in reading that story, but that isn’t what the blog is about.

No, today’s blog topic will be about a television show that is a little more recent.  So recent that it is still currently airing.

The show suffered a major setback between season eight and season nine, where one of the main stars was fired after a series of bizarre events in the media.  Because the main character was such a key element in the show, a lot of people wondered if the show would go on without him there. 

But, the producers came up with the solution to bring in a new character, and the show went on.  But, is it really any good?  I’ll answer that a little later.

This is the story of “Two and a Half Men”, and the aftermath of the Charlie Sheen scandal of 2011.

As most of you know, “Two and a Half Men” debuted on CBS in September 2003, and when it debuted, it starred Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones, and Charlie Sheen.

Remember that final name.  It’s an important one in this entry.

Anyway, the main plot of the show revolved around Charlie Sheen’s character (appropriately enough also named Charlie.)  Charlie Harper was a jingle writer for commercials and television programs, and apparently he made a decent living at it.  He lived in a beautiful beach house on the Malibu coast, and he was well-off enough to be able to afford to hire a housekeeper, Berta (Conchata Ferrell).  On the surface, Charlie had it all.

The only problem was that he was a self-centered horndog who treated women as if they were golden trophies.

If we tallied up the number of women Charlie had slept with both before, and on the show, it would likely be in the hundreds, if not thousands.  During his entire run, Charlie would have his fill with whatever his flavour of the week was, and then cast them out in the cold when a new one came along.  It certainly didn’t make Charlie look like an angelic saint of a character, but he wasn’t supposed to be either.  But somehow, Chuck Lorre, and the rest of the production and writing crew made up for it by giving Charlie likeable personality traits.  On some level, Charlie could be pathetic, but he could also be quite sharp and sarcastic as well.

And, besides, Charlie lived the bachelor life on the coast of a beautiful beach.  Sure, he had a stalker named Rose (Melanie Lynskey), but most times, he could outsmart her.  Life was good for Charlie.

That is until his brother and nephew became homeless and needed a place to live.

Enter Charlie’s wet, cold fish of a brother, chiropractor Alan Harper (Cryer) and his pre-teen son, Jake (Jones), a boy whose personality seems more like his uncle Charlie than his father.  Alan’s ex-wife, Judith (Marin Hinkle) kicked Alan out, and Alan decides to ask Charlie if they could stay.  Charlie reluctantly agreed, thinking that at most, they would be staying for a day...eight at the most.

As of March 2012, Alan and Jake are STILL there.

Certainly, the family unit between Charlie, Alan, and Jake was a rather original one.  Many of the plotlines in the show dealt with a lot of the relationships in the series.  We saw Jake grow from boy to man over the course of the show’s run.  Unfortunately for Alan, this meant that we saw Jake grow into a man that was more like Charlie.  Of course, we also saw moments in which Jake and Alan got along as well.  Charlie and Alan’s relationship mirrored the relationship that a lot of brothers have.  Deep down, you know they care about each other, and would do anything for the other one, but they still find time to poke fun at each other.  Charlie would frequently make fun of Alan from his dress style, to his lack of romance, to his gullibility...well, just about everything, really.  But Alan often gave it as good as he took it, constantly lecturing Charlie on his promiscuous nature, and his careless attitude.

Oh, and whenever their mother (Holland Taylor) came for a visit, you could always count on Alan and Charlie to team up to try and survive her biting tongue and scathing criticism.

For eight seasons, this was the formula of almost every episode, and it worked really well.  The show often won the ratings war in its Monday night time slot, and The New York Times called “Two and a Half Men” the biggest hit comedy of the past decade.  And, considering that creator Chuck Lorre also created “Dharma & Greg”, “The Big Bang Theory”, and “Mike & Molly”, that’s one idea of a crowning achievement.

But then came the winter of 2010/11, where Charlie Sheen’s “winning” attitude came back to bite him.

Unless you were living in a cave during that time (well, actually, during that time, I was in a hospital bed recovering from surgery, so I didn’t know about it until after I was discharged), you know the story.  In January 2011, Charlie Sheen entered a rehabilitation center for the third time in less than a year.  As a result of that, the filming of the show was put on what was meant to be a temporary hiatus.  But, just a few weeks later, things really snowballed out of control.

During a radio interview on the Alex Jones show in February 2011, Charlie Sheen made several derogatory comments directed towards Chuck Lorre.  I won’t repeat them here, because after reading them on various sites that detailed the fight, I have difficulty making any sense out of it.  But, trust me.  His words were quite vicious in nature.  It almost seemed as though Charlie Sheen almost wanted the show to get cancelled! 

According to past reports, it wouldn’t have been much of a shock if that was what Charlie was doing.  Reports stated that Charlie wanted off the show at the conclusion of season seven in 2010.  When he signed on for two more years on May 18, 2010, we all believed that Sheen had a change of heart.  But, on February 24, 2011, Lorre, Warner Brothers, and CBS had enough.  That day, it was decided that the last four episodes of the eighth season would not be filmed, and the season would end prematurely.  Just a few days later on March 7, 2011, Sheen was officially fired from “Two and a Half Men”, leading to dozens of rants about tiger blood, how he was “winning”, and how much he disliked Jon Cryer (though he would later half-apologize for his remarks).  He also launched a stand-up tour which got mixed reviews.

There was much speculation about what the future of the show was around the time Sheen was shown the door.  Many viewers (including myself, come to think of it) expected the show to be cancelled.  You just couldn’t have “Two and a Half Men without Charlie Sheen!  I mean, Jon Cryer is a fantastic actor, and I’ve been a fan of his since he appeared in “Pretty in Pink”...but he and Sheen made such a fantastic double act.  With one of them gone, I couldn’t see Cryer carrying the show by himself, as talented as he was. 

But then the decision was made to bring in a new character named Walden Schmidt, played by “That 70s Show” star, Ashton Kutcher.  The show would go on with a new character joining the current cast. 

But, how would they bring him in?

Simple.  Since Charlie Sheen was fired, his character Charlie Harper obviously wasn’t coming back.  So, they kill him off in one of the most bizarre ways possible, leaving Alan and Jake with the house.  Naturally, Alan can’t afford to keep the house, because I guess chiropractors don’t have the salary to keep a home in Malibu.

Enter billionaire Walden Schmidt, who becomes Alan’s best friend.  Walden, broken-hearted over a failed marriage, decides to buy Charlie’s house, and moves in with Alan, Jake, and Berta, and thus, season nine was born.

But, here’s the thing.  I’m not enjoying the new “Two and a Half Men”.  It’s not the same without Charlie.  I believe Ashton Kutcher is trying his best, and with his marriage to Demi Moore ending right around the time he joined the show, I imagine that it probably wasn’t the best time for him in his personal life.  But, as a new character, I think Walden falls flat.  At least with “The Hogan Family”, Sandy Duncan’s character was just as enjoyable to watch as Valerie Harper.  But, I fail to see much chemistry between Kutcher and Cryer, as I did between Sheen and Cryer.

At this point in time, it’s hard to say whether “Two and a Half Men” will make it to ten years.  The first few years were fantastic, but I have barely been able to watch much of season nine.  I know that only one cast change was made, but I’m finding that it isn’t working.  And, you know what they say when something isn’t working...

Even the news that they’re bringing Charlie Harper back in a future episode of “Two and a Half Men” was disappointing, because instead of bringing back Sheen (though I doubt Sheen would participate anyway), they cast Kathy Bates to play the ghost of Charlie.  If it sounds absolutely ridiculous, it probably is.  If interested, the show is slated to air at the end of April, but I doubt that I’ll be tuning in.

Oh least the reruns of the show are still on television.  Maybe I’ll just watch those instead.

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