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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two and a Half Men meets Walden Schmidt

     With last night's episode, "Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt," CBS's Two and a Half Men leaves behind a period of bad press and upheaval, and begins to move on. No one could miss that storm that Charlie Sheen caused last year, and the ninth season premiere reveals that he has died. Sometime since the last episode, Charlie, the character, gets engaged. But his fiancé catches him cheating with another woman, and then pushes Charlie in front of a train. Excuse me, the crazy woman has nothing to do with it. Charlie "slips" in front of a train, or so the police apparently rule. The premiere finds Charlie's family and many of his exes (including some familiar famous faces) at his funeral, almost everyone not really sad at all.

     Sort of like how series creator Chuck Lorre feels about Sheen. While one can never truly know the relationship, other than the two men, the animosity between them has been a major news point. This funeral is a slap in the face to Charlie, with his own mother, Evelyn (Holland Taylor), more concerned about selling Charlie's house, then mourning over the loss of her son. Charlie's nephew (Angus T. Jones), whom Charlie took in, could care less. Perhaps it preserves the characters as they always have been, but only someone furious at Charlie Sheen would give his character such an un-touching send off. Not that Lorre isn't justified.

     The problem isn't that the funeral is out of character for Two and a Half Men, it's not, but that it completely fits the tone of the series. While popular in the middle of the country, Two and a Half Men has never been high quality entertainment, or really, even very funny. Charlie's bad behavior, and the careless way he treats women, is something to be scorned, not laughed at. That the women have grown bitter and feel the same callousness towards Charlie's death is a crying shame, not something to be celebrated. This crass, tasteless humor is what makes Two and a Half Men not worth watching in the first place.

     Only Alan (Jon Cryer) even begins to be sympathetic. He shows grief over Charlie's passing, and kindness to a stranger who shows up at his door after just trying to kill himself. Too bad Alan is whiny and weasel-like, which is why he gets neither woman and he and Walden pick up from the bar. Cryer seems to struggle mightily with making Alan a good guy, but has weak material to work with, and so only partially succeeds.

     The good news is, for fans of the series, it remains just as good as it was when Charlie was on it, which is to say, not very. Walden (Ashton Kutcher, That '70s Show) may be a different person, for now, but he's about as funny as Sheen is. Instead of being womanizing, though it appears he may turn into that soon, he is a lame, suicidal billionaire. There isn't anything in "Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt" that indicates Walden will turn out to be any deeper or likeable than Charlie. Sure, he is sad his marriage is breaking up. But then he casually buys a house of a recently deceased person, whose brother is still living there, and has a threesome, revealing his shallow depth concerning both women and money.

     The sole great moment on "Nice to Meet You, Walden Schmidt" comes as Evelyn shows off Charlie's house to two prospective buyers, who turn out to be from Lorre's previous series, Dharma & Greg. While not named, the hippie wife (Jenna Elfman) and stuffy husband (Thomas Gibson) are clearly meant to reprise their roles from that other show. Dharma & Greg was a much better series than Two and a Half Men, and their appearance, though regrettably short, is funny and welcoming.

     If you want to watch Two and a Half Men, something I cannot recommend you do, it airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

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