So 28 million people watched Ashton Kutcher's debut on Two and a Half Men last night, and I was one of those people. And boy was it a harrowing experience.
A couple things. First, I had kind of intended for this to be a serious review but haha, it is impossible to do that for this show. Second, it should be noted that this was only the second or third episode of this egregiously terrible show that I've ever watched, so I'm not exactly an expert on the ins and outs of TAAHM's style of humor and inside jokes and whatnot. Just a caveat!
That all said, good grief. The episode had to do two things: It had to say goodbye to Charlie Sheen's Charlie Harper, the episode beginning at his funeral, and it had to introduce Walden Schmidt, the sadsack billionaire who's a sexpot but doesn't know it played by Ashton Kutcher. And it handled neither with aplomb. It's pretty grim material to play for laughs — the death of a brother, son, uncle — but Two and a Half Men did it anyway, driving over a cliff with a funeral scene that included lots of Charlie's old affairs, all gleefully celebrating his death and wanting to spit on his corpse, because nothing says CBS-style sitcom comedy quite like spitting on a corpse. The joke was, of course, that Charlie was a lothario asshole, so who's really gonna miss him? Not even his mom, who stood up at the funeral to speak, but only to try and sell the Malibu house where the show takes place. Oh and Melanie Lynskey showed up in her recurring role as a neighborhood creepo and basically implied that she killed Charlie by pushing him in front of the Paris Metro and that he exploded "like a bag of meat." Hilarious! How wonderful for everyone that that exceedingly gruesome thing was described on this brightly lit, rotten candy show.
Basically the entire business with Charlie was gruesome and unpleasant, but not as unpleasant by half as all of the crass sex joking surrounding the arrival of Kutcher's character. Considering CBS is the old people's network, and that Two and a Half Men allegedly appeals to slightly conservative middlebrow America, you'd think there would be at least some timidity in terms of covering sexual material, but instead no, it's all horrifyingly blunt and uncoordinated humor about dick size and [shudder] Jon Cryer masturbating. The video wizards here at H.Q. have whipped up a clip reel of what I'm talking about up top, but in case you can't watch video the gist is that there was a running gag about how big Kutcher's character's penis is, because I guess the mere presence of Jon Cryer wasn't gay-panicky enough, they really needed to drive that point home. The Walden Schmidt half of the episode largely played as if Cryer's character had a big old crush on Kutcher's, but I'm sure that wasn't intentional subtext or anything.
For those concerned with plot, they're shoehorning Kutcher in by having him buy the Malibu man mansion where everyone lives (after he comes across the house while trying to kill himself — wonderful!), so that way continuity remains and we're back to the old creaking gross routine in no time. Before Kutcher bought the house, there were celebrity cameos from such glittering all stars as John Stamos and, incredibly, Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson, playing Dharma and Greg. Yesssss. They brought back Dharma and fucking Greg for a joke bit, which is just about the most insane thing I've seen on television in the past few months. Dharma and Greg! In 2011! Unbelievable.
Verdict-wise, will Kutcher work? I mean, it's not as if there's some delicate comedic balance here that is suddenly out of whack. The show is tit jokes and dick jokes and fart jokes occasionally peppered by quips delivered by determinedly non-sexual women characters played by Holland Taylor and Conchata Ferrell (I mean, they might make jokes about sex, but they are not sex objects, so therefore it's OK). In that spirit, Kutcher ought to fit in just fine. But I suspect people will still miss Sheen's teetering-on-the-brink-of-oblivion verve and that this Kutcher experiment won't last terribly long. Last night they managed to make the show as unpalatable as it ever was with Sheen, which I guess is an accomplishment in its own way, but without Sheen there doesn't really seem to be a point to any of it.