The fact that Two and a Half Men survived the firing of Charlie Sheen is nothing short of a miracle. It was so focused on him that it should have been called The Charlie Sheen Show. His infamous meltdown seemed like the end of the line for the series. Through no fault of his own, expectations were not high when it was announced that Ashton Kutcher would be hired for the ninth season.
It was an interesting move, and while the situation was not great, the show did manage to hang on. I think long-time fans will agree that the program improved dramatically during Kutcher‘s second year, which has just been released as the three-DVD set Two and a Half Men: The Complete Tenth Season.
Kutcher’s character is a young high-tech billionaire named Walden Schmidt, who is also a very nice guy. After buying the Malibu home of the deceased Charlie Harper, he lets Charlie’s free-loading brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and his dim-witted son Jake (Angus T. Jones) stay on. He also kept Charlie’s surly housekeeper Berta (Conchata Farrell). This was a smart move by the producers, because the supporting cast are crucial. Conchata Ferrell had a fabulous chemistry with Sheen, and while things are still a bit awkward between her and Kutcher, their rapport has greatly improved.
Some times I think Jon Cryer is the luckiest guy on the planet. This is a ridiculous simplification of course, for Cryer has certainly earned his position. But by just showing up and doing his job, and doing it very well, he has shown himself to be a rock in a sea of television turbulence.
Even without the Sheen disaster, the program had a built-in situation it would have had to deal with by now. Angus T. Jones plays Alan’s son Jake, the “half” man of the title. As a wise-cracking kid, Jake provided a lot of laughs. As he grew older though, he became less and less funny. The writers never did figure out what to do with him as he got older though, and now he is in the Army.
We mostly see Jake via Skype, although he does comes home a few times. One of his more memorable visits comes in “Paint It, Pierce It Or Plug It,” in which he brings along his new girlfriend. She is Tammy (Jaime Pressly), a hard-partying 36-year old tattooed biker chick who digs having a horny 19-year old boyfriend.
Now that everybody is more comfortable with the “new” Two and a Half Men, we are seeing a lot more focus on Walden. In the tenth season opener, he proposes to his English girlfriend Zoey (Sophie Winkelman). In fitting with his status as a nerdy billionaire, Walden hires Michael Bolton to serenade her during his proposal.
Zoey’s rejection of Walden’s proposal provides one of the main themes of this season, his search for love. Nerdy or not, women somehow find billionaires attractive, which Walden is keenly aware of. In one of the best storylines of the season, Walden decides to try and find true love by pretending to be poor. He becomes “Sam Wilson,” an average Joe who lives at the Malibu house thanks to the kindness of the “rich” Alan Harper. A woman named Kate (Brooke D’Orsay) is the object of Walden/Sam’s affection, and these episodes are a definite high points.
Living the lie about being Sam Wilson eventually becomes too much for Walden, and he comes clean during “Grab a Feather and Get in Line.” This was one of the most celebrated episodes of the season, as it features a huge Broadway-style song-and-dance number. This happens at Kate’s big New York fashion show, which the newly-wealthy Alan has set up, or so she thinks. They pulled out all the stops for this, and Walden comes clean. I am not really a fan of show tunes, but it is still pretty impressive.
While Two and a Half Men is not the ratings powerhouse it once was, it remains popular enough to attract some strong guest stars. The biggest of these has to be the newly crowned Queen of Twerking, Miley Cyrus. In “You Do Know What the Lollipop’s For,“ Cyrus is Missi, the daughter of a friend of Walden’s. Despite the fact that she never shuts up, she is pretty hot, and Walden thinks about making a play for her. Then Jake comes home on leave and sweeps her off her feet. She also appears in “Avoid the Chinese Mustard,” where Jake goes AWOL to see her again. Oh, my achy-breaky plot.
It must have come as a relief to creator Chuck Lorre when Jones went on his Christian version of Sheen’s meltdown, and denounced the show midway through the tenth season. Since they had no idea of what to do with Jake anymore anyway, his role was reduced to that of recurring character from here on out. In the tenth season finale, “Cows, Prepare to be Tipped,” it is announced that he will be stationed overseas, and everybody gathers around to give him a send-off.
The set includes two bonus features. The first is “Two Manly Men Singing and Dancing,” which is a nine-minute, behind-the-scenes piece about the Broadway bit in “Grab a Feather and Get in Line.” The second is a ten-minute Gag Reel, which is pretty funny.
It is interesting to note that just a few years ago, Two and a Half Men provided a massive audience lead-in for a quirky little sitcom called The Big Bang Theory on Monday nights. This week marks the debut of the new seasons for both of those shows, with The Big Bang Theory now anchoring the CBS network’s Thursday night lineup.
Season 11 of Two and a Half Men looks promising, with the introduction of Charlie Harper’s hitherto unknown, and all grown-up daughter. I’m rooting for them. As I mentioned, the second of the “Kutcher Years” (as they will inevitably be called) showed a marked improvement over the first. The proof is right here in Two and a Half Men: The Complete Tenth Season.