Television in the Fall; Depressingly Familiar.

21 09 2011

Summer is over, Fall is here.

That means that the baseball season is coming to an end, the NFL will occupy the eyeballs of the Nation and that Boston Bruins will soon get the chance to hoist the Championship banner above the TD Garden.

But if you don’t like sport – and I assume that some people don’t – then there is a full schedule of new and returning TV programs to get excited/apathetic about.

Viewers will be able to experience the excitement and glamor of air travel with Pan Am, enjoy another zombie apocalypse in The Walking Dead, endure the American version of Prime Suspect, wipe Michael Scott from their minds with Season 147 of The Office, find out that Hugh Hefner was only the public face of the real power in The Playboy Club, be scared by dinosaurs in Terra Nova and watch Simon Cowell destroy dreams in The X Factor.

And most important of all, see whether Two & A Half Men can survive without Charlie.

The new season of the two men living/bickering/having sexual relations/satisfying themselves in a nice house while a teenager mopes about thinking about sex/food aired on television this week and was notable for one reason.

It no longer starred Charlie Sheen playing a sexually deviant, drug addled, morally bankrupt performer called Charlie. In one of the more public fallouts in television history, Sheen had been fired from the show for making inappropriate remarks about the creator of the surprisingly successful series(bearing in mind that every episode is exactly the same – One brother gets laid, the other doesn’t, the teenager mopes about), Chuck Lorre.

Fans around the world feared the worst.

So it was hard to know how they felt when the news broke that the series would continue but with Ashton Kutcher replacing the tiger-blood addicted warlock.

The makers of the show were keen to stress that Kutcher was not going to be playing the same role but would bring a new dynamic to Men, moving away from the hopeless loser gets to watch his handsome, confident, alcoholic, sexually active brother pull a succession of women.

And this week, we got to see the new and improved Two & Half Men.

It started with a funeral. Charlie’s.

Neatly sidestepping the need to explain the real reason why there was no open casket, Alan Harper (hopeless, loser brother) was trying to give his eulogy to his departed brother. In front of a congregation of stunningly beautiful females (and Martin Mull), we discovered that Charlie Harper had run off to Paris with his stalker, proposed, been caught in the shower with another woman and mysteriously fallen in front of a train on the Metro, exploding “like a bag of meat”. This revelation was greeted by silence with the exception of Jake Harper (mopey, dimwitted teenager) asking if anyone was hungry.

Cut to Malibu beach house where the revelation that Charlie Harper has no money brings gasps from the audience. House has to be sold, Alan will have to leave, the drama, the humanity…all played out in the first seven minutes.

Then Charlie comes back. In an urn.

Alan gets emotional, decides to sprinkle the ashes on the ocean, sees Ashton Kutcher on the balcony, drops the urn, puts Charlie in a dust-buster, takes pity on AK – playing a befuddled and emotionally scared billionaire with an (apparently) large gentleman’s area – and drags him to a bar where they meet two women, bring them back to the Malibu beach house where they decide to have sex with AK and leaving Alan to remark that this all seems “depressingly familiar.”

Correct. Charlie has gone and been replaced by the bloke whose acting role in a TV series was ‘That 70’s Show’ – when he played a befuddled, sexually active teenager.

Charlie Sheen has been very gracious in his praise for his replacement on the show saying that he “thought it was the best intro for a new character on a TV show of all time.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, 28 million viewers tuned into the season premiere of “Men”, ratings for the sitcom were up 110 percent over last fall’s eighth-season debut with Sheen and the show notched the highest-rated season premiere for a scripted series since “Desperate Housewives” debuted six years ago.

But something isn’t right with this picture.

I have nothing against Kutcher, he is an OK actor who has made some truly dreadful films (Killers, What Happens In Vegas) and is married to Demi Moore. But he isn’t Charlie Sheen.

The fun in watching Two & Half Men came from the realization that Sheen was getting paid $1.8 million per episode to play himself.

That a television network was willing to forgive (up to a certain point) the transgressions of a leading man as long as the ratings were high. Lorre may have  thought that he was writing a show about the dynamics of dysfunctional family but really he was giving the audience the dumbed down version of his hit other show ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

We may have been critical of Charlie Harper and his lifestyle but the character himself was an unapologetic libertine. Much like Charlie Sheen, the actor.

Successful television series have done away with their bankable characters before and they will do so again but something is always lost when the original reason for watching is no longer part of the entertainment.

Time will tell if the remaining men will be able to ensure that Charlie stays in the dust-buster.

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One response

23 09 2011
Christopher S. Pineo (@ChrisPineo)

I looked up that sculpture you mentioned in your last post, and have become obsessed. You can follow the formaldehyde shark on twitter.

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