The loss of a lead performer in a film or television franchise can be a truly devastating ordeal — whether the missing star's absence is attributable to an unfortunate real-life passing (see: Taggart), or someone simply went wacko and got shit-canned by producers (see: Valerie). In the moving picture industry, this can be rectified by a simple bit of recasting. In TV Land, however, there are these strange, ardent, geek-like individuals — people we often refer to as "fans" — who become so rapt by their favorite show that the mere thought of hiring a new player is usually met with disaster.
So, when Charlie Sheen wound up being fired from Two and a Half Men, many wondered: "Where would the series go from here?" The answer lied in some young, long-haired hippie-ish feller named Ashton Kutcher: a decision in casting that, miraculously, appealed to the show's viewers and — possibly — even proved to be the salvation of the series.
The character of Charlie (as formerly portrayed by Mr. Sheen) is dead. Bereft of life (Monty Python reference: check) due to an unscheduled appointment with a moving train. This season begins with his funeral (with all of his ex-girlfriends in attendance), moving onto the plight of his brother Alan (Jon Cryer, who won his second Emmy for the series this season) shortly thereafter. How will Alan cope alone in a beach house that he couldn't possibly afford? Enter Walden Schmidt (Kutcher): a disheveled, newly-single Internet billionaire who with the body of a man and the heart and soul of a child. The perfect match for Alan and his uncouth offspring, Jake (Angus T. Jones), right?
Yes, indeed. From the very second the experienced television performer Kutcher appears onscreen (in which is first made visible through the ashes of his antecedent), it's obvious that he is very confident he can outshine the sheen that Sheen left behind: a task he sets about without any noticeable trepidations whatsoever (note the smugness on his face in the new opening credits). Much like Sheen's Charlie Harper, Kutcher's Walden Schmidt is a ladies man — but he doesn't inhabit the same hedonistic lifestyle as his predecessor. Instead, Kutcher's character gets the ladies with his naïve, unmindful, and unbridled spirit: a man-child who has no qualms about walking around in the nude or settling in as Cryer's bedfellow and foil.
And, no matter who immature and misogynistic the show may get (and it does), some fresh man meat is probably just what this series needed. On the plus side, this season finally allots Jon Cryer the opportunity to imbibe the spirit of his late onscreen brother's persona (he even takes the opportunity to say "Winning!") for an episode. Guest stars in this season include John Stamos, Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson (reprising their roles from Dharma and Greg), Jenny McCarthy, Jason Alexander, and Gary Busey — the latter of whom has a memorable, suiting role as a patient in the loony bin.
Two and a Half Men: The Complete Ninth Season comes to us on DVD in a three-disc set that brings us all 24 episodes of the revamped-but-wholly-similar entry in this long-running series in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio with 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound (along with a 2.0 track in Portuguese!) and subtitles available in English (SDH), Chinese, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Bonus materials include the featurettes "2.5 Men, Version 2.0" — wherein we witness Ashton's first evening on camera — and "The Billionaire Upgrade: Walden Schmidt's Malibu House Redesign," where we go behind-the-scenes at the remodeling job the show's familiar set went through for its new co-star. Lastly, there's a gag reel; something we get with just about every TV on home video release these days.
In short: Ashton Kutcher is given the unenviable task of stepping in to fill Charlie Sheen's vomit-coated, cocaine-stained shoes — and he immediately starts winning. My hat goes off to you, good sir.