Two And a Half Men, or The Case of The Sloppily Managed Franchise

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I am writing now about a TV series that I used to like, very much, though not a lot. But I had a really good time when watching it, that is, before major changes (you know which ones) happened to it. The series is Two and a Half Men.

Before I start with my comment, which I feel is likely to turn out to be a bit vivacious, let me tell you about my approach on watching TV shows.

I can sometimes be a junkie for any kind of program. I can watch Frasier or Wings, Adventure Time or ICarly, reruns of the Andy Griffith Show, or Dethklok. Sometimes I just can’t discriminate, and so I watch whatever is being shown.

That said, there are some shows which I consider smart, some of them witty, and some of them just cheap time fillers. I have prepared a little classification for sitcoms:

Shows that are smart. Examples of a smart show are: Seinfeld, The Golden Fgirls and Hot in Cleveland. The writers of these shows really earn their bread, there is plenty of timing and nods… An uber-example of this kind of show is “The Nights and Days of Molly Dodd”, a program which masterfully handled not only comedy, but also drama. An excellent show, if you feel like using your grey matter in full-fledged mode.

Witty shows. Their characters are skilled in playing with words, and also somehow fond to mock others for being silly or dimwitted. I’m thinking here of the Cosby Show, Reba, Roseanne, the Suite Life of Zack and Cody (which is also very oddball), How I met your mother (moderately oddball). The dynamic between Dorothy and Sophia on one side, and Blanche and Rose on the other is pure witty comedy. But it’s so smart it self-promotes itself to the “shows that are smart” category.

Funny and witty: I dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Melissa and Joey. Funny situations are prioritized over witty comments. But the result is very enjoyable.

Shows being smart and witty are: Who’s the boss, The Nanny. Some situations are “hammy” here, but you know there is a battle of wits going on there. Also enjoyable. The classy factor goes down a notch in relation to the three types mentioned above.

Oddball-smart shows: 30 Rock, Newsradio. To follow a show like these, be prepared to listen and ponder every little thing happening and being said in it. Lots of fun, but don’t expect it to be easy to watch. These shows are statistically less in number than smart and witty shows. Their pace is faster, and their level of smartness is higher. Fun, and an output of quality writing But definitely not for everybody.

“Hey, I’d like to be there, too” shows:  Friends. Their jokes are really lame when you compare them with any of the shows descibed above. If Friends’ jokes were good, the “good-looking people” factor would be irrelevant, and the show would be promoted to the Witty kind. On the other side, if their characters were not absurdly good looking and living in a fancy atmosphere, the show would be downgraded to a filler (look below). This show also has the attribute of being easy to watch. You can be shaving, drying your hair or checking some food in the oven while you watch the show. Also, “Friends” works like some material to discuss about with your buddies: hey that guy did this cool thing, the girl that was in last night’s show was so hot, my girlfriend does that, my friend wanted to buy that dress, etc. If I had a say in what I watch and what I don’t, I’d most certainly stay miles away from this show.

Time fillers (or comedy rock bottom): The King of Queens, Everybody loves Raymond, Til Death, According to Jim, etc. The characters here are very black and white, take for example Jerry Stiller as the father-in-law in KOQ, Doris Roberts in ELR, etc. These guys are not witty, their jokes have an effect as subtle as a steamroller. You just want to have a quick laugh here. But sometimes the jokes are so bad that in order to stay watching the show, you need to change your expectations from it, like, forget about catching a good joke, but start tracking the inconsistencies of the context and characters. To me, that is a pastime, too, although sometimes I wish I could just turn off the TV set and walk away from it, instead of playing the game of spotting bad scripts and criticizing the sloppy creative job that is manifest in the show.

Two and a Half Men was a witty show. Charlie Sheen played the role of somebody who preferred to live alone, but had to bear with a homeless brother and his kid, a no nonsense maid ready to smash whatever Charlie thought was a good idea or appreciation, and that cute stalker that complicated the bachelor’s playboy-like life. The premise worked very good. My expectation of an hour of this show was to catch Charlie’s, Bertha’s or Charlie’s mother’s verbal attacks to others and between themselves. Gosh, you need to be a bit of a rascal to think like that, and certainly very smart to say those things that way! That, my friends, was the show. I did enjoy watching it.

The show has changed. Yes, it has. The center of the life in the bachelor’s house is not a forty year old spoiled brat and a playboy, but a very low profile computer programmer who, instead of attacking fast as a cobra to anyone importuning him, begs the other members of the household to give him a break.

Holland Taylor’s role as the bachelor’s mom did fit very well in the show. She showed she was tougher than ultra tough Charlie, and managed to ridicule Charlie’s needy brother Allen with great style. The three of them created a very powerful triangular dynamic. Charlie’s mom could break Charlie into pieces at will, so we saw the tough being intimidated by the toughest. This is only one of the things I liked from the character set in the show.

But Two and a Half Men’s world ended when Charlie Sheen left the show. I wanted to believe the show could survive, but I don’t think it actually did. To me, the show is now mostly the equivalent of a reanimated corpse. Looks like the guy, but it’s brain is dead as a stone. Charlie’s mom comes and goes from the household, basically due to completely implausible arguments. Walden, the new center of the household, tolerates this: a guest living for free in his house, a maid that he could have easily replaced for any other, due to the fact that he owes her nothing, she is mostly a new acquaintance to him, and she does not work. But he also bears with the obnoxious guest’s kid., the obnoxious guest’s kid’ friend, the obnoxious guest’s mother. This is implausible, unlikely, unbelievable. Charlie bore with his family and maid, Walden bears with people completely unrelated to him that make his life difficult.

We said farewell to the stalker girl. She was funny. A new character was introduced: Walden’s girlfriend. Well, she is not funny. If Walden plays the straight guy in the show, Zoey, his girlfriend, is worried about making the good choices in her life, and doesn’t quite laugh or mock others: she is not witty, she’s almost a humorless character. She has nice features, and it can be argued that Walden does have some, too. I am, therefore, tempted to tag this show as one of the “Hey, I’d like to be there” kind. Actually, it fits very well in that category, because it has a good-looking romantic couple in the center of its world, and let’s not forget that Walden is rich, owns a jet and some cool stuff. Yes, Walden’s thing is flying in his own jet, where Charlie’s thing was scorning others while holding a drink and wearing a bowler’s shirt combined with shorts, and shoes and socks which didn’t match. Jet-setting is fancy. Holding a drink looking like somebody who doesn’t care how he looks like is not, but conveys character instead. And it was fun, at the same time.

I said what I wanted to say. But I want to make very clear this: I don’t dislike neither Ashton Kutcher, nor Eric Walden. Kutcher is alright. Walden is a nice guy, but that doesn’t rescue him from being ineffective in the show. I felt replacing Charlie Sheen was a Herculean task, to say the least. The writers seemed to have chosen Kutcher either because they wanted to start “clean-slate” (what? They kept almost everybody else in the show, how is this clean slate?) or they upped the ante and bet for an experienced comedy star like Kutcher to re-engineer the show’s dynamics with some x-factor sort of performance. In either case, they failed. Wait a minute, there was a third option! They wanted to milk the cow for a while. OK, then they have succeeded.

But don’t you expect me to say thanks and congratulations, dear people in charge of the show. Two and a Half Men ended when Charlie left the show. You, colluded with Jon Cryer, a star I think deserved and still deserves a much better career, have turned Two and Half Men into a franchise, the current instance of which you handle the same way a greedy but burger-hater food joint owner would be squeezing the McDonald’s name in order to sell poor quality food to people who would eat anything that carried that name.

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