There’s no doubt about it: we are living in the golden age of television. From comedies like The Big Bang Theory to dramas like True Detective, TV is as diverse as it has ever been. The problem with some shows, however, is that they sometimes end on a bad note (How I Met Your Mother, Lost, etc.), and nowhere is that better illustrated than in the newest and final season of the once hilarious Two and a Half Men.
After their mega-successful roles as Bud Fox in Wall Street and Duckie Dale in Pretty in Pink, Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer were a match made in heaven. With Sheen as a modern Casanova, Cryer as a lovable loser, and an ensemble of creative characters, Two and a Half Men had genius written all over it.
The show centered around Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper, a womanizer alcoholic who enjoyed his life as a professional jingle writer living in a Malibu beach house. Jon Cryer’s Alan is his newly single brother who was kicked out of his house by his lesbian ex-wife and now needs a place to live. Charlie reluctantly lets Alan and his son Jake stay at his house for a few weeks, which then became eight years.
Two and a Half Men quickly grew in popularity, earning Charlie Sheen a salary of $2 million an episode and Jon Cryer $620,000 an episode. It also won 9 Primetime Emmy awards, including two for Jon Cryer’s portrayal of Alan Harper.
It seemed that the show was a cash cow that milked itself, but it would go downhill faster than you could say “Jack Robinson”. When Charlie Sheen was fired from the show after displaying *ahem* eccentric behavior on the set, creator of the show Chuck Lorre was faced with the task of replacing one of the most popular characters in sitcom history.
After interviews with Hugh Grant and John Stamos, Lorre and his team decided on the young Ashton Kutcher, who would play billionaire Walden Schmidt, and the rest is history.
As if the loss of a personality like Sheen’s wasn’t devastating enough, Chuck Lorre had to deal with another rebel in Angus T. Jones, who played Jake.
After keeping his mouth shut and enjoying life as the highest paid actor under 25 in the world for years, Jones said in an interview “Jake from Two and a Half Men means nothing” and encouraged his fans to stop watching the show. This was a slightly easier fix, they just had Jake join the army and leave as fast as possible, replacing him with a series of comic reliefs which were neither funny nor offered any kind of relief. By then, the damage was irreversible.
The show is entering its twelfth and final season, and it’s obvious that Ashton Kutcher is no Charlie Sheen, and that Two and a Half Men is nowhere near the masterpiece it used to be.
With Charlie Sheen and Angus T. Jones both gone from the show, it seems like the writers are greenlighting every idea they come up with the minute they come up with it. Season 11 had Jenny Harper, Charlie’s long-lost 30-year old lesbian daughter (I swear to god I’m not making this up) and, most insulting of all, the season 12 premiere episode had Walden and Alan (no joke) getting married and trying to adopt, almost like they want us not to watch the show.
What does this say about TV? In my humble opinion, it shows that people like Chuck Lorre shouldn’t be envied. When you consider that he had to bring the show basically back from the dead, with a different lead and a different comic relief, one could say he did the best he could, given the circumstances.
Does that mean that the choices he made were the right ones? I’d say no, but someone else might very reasonably say yes. I feel the same way about the show Glee, which also peaked way too early and had a complete casting change because of it. Television is an extremely fragile medium and the outcome of each episode can either make or break a series.
A show that managed to make very careful choices and whose humor has kept consistent over the years is South Park or even The Simpsons, whose biggest crime was just overstaying their welcome.
Does the decline of Two and a Half Men mean that television as an art form is dying? Not at all, it’s just a cautionary tale of what can happen if you’re not careful and, amid all the good that television has brought, we need something like Two and a Half Men to keep us grounded in reality.