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Both Kutcher and Sheen Show Up on TV Monday, But Get Upstaged by Star Cameos... And a Still Photo
September 20, 2011  | By David Bianculli

[UPDATE: This column describes a mystery image tacked on at the end of Monday's Two and a Half Men -- an image explained, brilliantly, in subsequent comments by TVWW readers. I asked, you answered. I love you people! -- DB]

Ashton Kutcher inherited the co-starring mantle from Charlie Sheen on CBS's Two and a Half Men Monday night -- the same night, and only a hour before, Sheen himself was shown sitting through a Roast of Charlie Sheen on Comedy Central.

And yet, after all that high-intensity media hype smoke cleared, I was left thinking about other things: Dharma, Greg, and the meaning of that vanity card photo...

The hugh-hush, game-changing season premiere of Two and a Half Men, written by series creator Chuck Lorre and three other writers, wasted no time whatsoever in ushering out the old times. It opened with the funeral of Sheen's Charlie Harper -- a closed-casket funeral, necessitated by, we soon learned, psychotic Rose's vengeful push, which deposited her new husband in the path of an oncoming Parisian commuter train.

Sorry, Charlie.

Soon enough, an unsuccessfully suicidal Walden Schmidt (Kutcher), a despondent, love-stricken billionaire, showed up at the beachfront sliding glass door of the home now occupied by Charlie's brother Alan (Jon Cryer) -- just as Alan was about to spread his brother's ashes. Startled by Walden's unexpected presence, Alan did, indeed, spread his brother's ashes -- all over the living-room rug.

two-and-a-half-men-ashton-p.jpgKutcher spent much of the rest of the episode half-naked, if that: There was as much computer pixilation on this CBS sitcom as there usually is on COPS. And at the end, we saw a "To be continued" sign, stopping the plot in midpoint -- which, predictably, will end with Walden buying the house, Alan and son Jake (Angus T. Jones) staying on as tenants, and the show trying hard to take advantage of the high-visibility turnover.

Later, on Sheen's Comedy Central roast, there was little talent on hand, fewer memorable jokes and less of a sense of comic danger than unfunny boredom. Though I did like the edginess of one joke, which pointed out that Sheen -- who replaced the original star of ABC's Spin City in midstream, just as Sheen himself has been replaced by Kutcher -- owed his entire TV career to the fact that "God hates Michael J. Fox."

charlie-sheen-roast-w-slash.jpgBut when Sheen entered flashing a peace sign, as guitar legend Slash played above him, it made him seem more like tamed self-parody than a winking, knowing outlaw -- the same effect he got from his appearance at the Emmys. And even though the televised roast, in order, was all Slash and burn, its temperature was, at best, tepid.

In fact, after the TV night was over, I kept thinking about two things, and they were neither Sheen nor Kutcher.

One: The Two and a Half Men premiere made room for a few cameos. One was by John Stamos, but the one that stuck with me belonged to Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson, reprising their title characters from Dharma & Greg, the ABC 1997-2002 sitcom co-created by Lorre.


In Men, Dharma and Greg were looking to buy the Harper beach house, which, after Charlie's death, was on the market because Alan couldn't afford the taxes or refinanced mortgage. But Dharma and Greg, instead of being the sweetly loving opposites they were during their sitcom -- Dharma all new-age gooey, Greg all button-down rigidness -- spent the scene totally at each other's throats.

Bickering loudly. Commenting snidley. Threatening divorce. And, as a farewell gesture, Greg put his finger to his head, like a gun, and pretended to shoot himself as he exits.

What kind of karma is that for Dharma?

I can understand Lorre being so bitter about his Two and a Half Men experience, but why take it out on the memory of Dharma & Greg?

Then, finally, there's Chuck Lorre's vanity card.

Famously, Lorre usually ends each episode with a specifically written mini-rant. But as the capper for this infamous changing-of-the-guard episode of Two and a Half Men, Lorre chose his words so wisely that he offered no words whatsoever.

Just this picture -- of three barrels, or unmarked tin cans, one of which is overturned:


So how do YOU interpret this? Two and a half barrels? Someone's turn in the barrel? A barrel of fun? A can of... what?

It's wide open to interpretation... and we're wide open for submissions.





Hayley said:

As you suggest above, I think the cans represent the two and a half men. The overturned can is analagous to the king being knocked over to resign a game a chess (Sheen leaving and his character dying). Only instead of chess pieces, we have cans, empty vessels, just as a good actor can be before inhabiting a character. These cans can be kicked down the road, just as the show moves on after Sheen. Of course, we know which one is going to be kicked.

[Oh, I liiiiike this. Nice job. -- DB]

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 12:11 PM

Ron Alridge said:

What we learn from the premiere of "Two and a Half Men" is that talent really matters and Charlie Sheen, his flaws aside, has a boatload of it. The revised Sheenless show is way below the norm for its original version and I'm not sure anything can bring it back short of a return to the cast by Sheen's character. The good news is, by getting rid of Sheen with a train mishap that left the body too disfigured to allow for an open coffin, the producers have left open the door to a possible return by Sheen. I mean, Sheen could easily wander in and explain that ol' Crazy Rose pushed the wrong guy. Stranger things have happened and as long as big money is involved can happen again.

[Ron, you're absolutely right, as usual. And on a medium where Patrick Duffy's Bobby Ewing can emerge from a shower on 'Dallas' and erase a year's worth of bad shows in which his character was dead and buried, anything's possible, and perhaps even probable. P.S. Would you PLEASE join our merry band and start writing a column, as you did in your old TV critic days? This surfacing from time to time to write wonderful observations, then burrow back underground like a cicada, may be fun for you, but it's frustrating to those of us still above ground. -- DB]

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 1:12 PM

Soundlab1407 said:

Charlie Sheen on the Alex Jones radio show:
"Last I checked, Chaim, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold."
This is Chuck Lorre's response.

[Brilliant! Brilliant! You TVWW readers are the best on the Internet! See also: the other comment nailing this just as correctly and exactly. Thanks to you both for solving this puzzle for me! -- DB]

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 2:54 PM

Dan Cowen said:

The reference in the vanity card is eluding to this Charlie Sheen rant from February:

Last I checked, Chaim, I spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold. And the gratitude I get is this charlatan chose not to do his job, which is to write. Clearly someone who believes he's above the law."

[Brilliant! Brilliant! You TVWW readers are the best on the Internet! See also: the other comment nailing this just as correctly and exactly. Thanks to you both for solving this puzzle for me! -- DB]

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 3:59 PM

Stewart said:

I believe the specific placement of the cans is true to the position of the actors in the series' sung opening, in which Sheen is on the left.

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 4:12 PM

Mark said:

Regarding the cans, at answers.yahoo.com, someone pointed out that Charlie Sheen said this in an interview:

****"I've spent close to the last decade effortlessly and magically converting your tin cans into pure gold," Sheen said about Lorre's writing.****

The picture is Lorre's retort.

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 5:01 PM

Bossman said:

If you have paid any attention to the media regarding Charlie Sheen's rants you can't miss the meaning! Chuck Lorre's picture is full of meaning, the downed can obviously represents Charlie Sheen, but notice that these are just TIN cans. Charlie Sheen in one of his rants indicated that he took Lorre's "tin cans and turned them into gold". This is an indicator that Lorre thinks Charlie Sheen did not have the effect that he thinks he did on the show, and he is down or out. Its kind of classy, not striking back with words, just letting an image do the work for him.

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 5:06 PM

CathyL said:

I think the tin cans relate to Charlie Sheen's quote back in the spring that he had "effortlessly and magically convert[ed Chuck Lorre's] tin cans into pure gold".

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 6:03 PM

Ron Alridge said:

You mean you now live ABOVE ground? Why on earth would you do that?
Seriously, Dave, thanks for the kind words. I just have this horror of returning to the days when I was expected to write something more or less every day, even when I had nothing to say. I know, I know, TVWW is different and I would have no obligation to write anything at anytime. But I would feel a moral obligation, you see.
None of this is to suggest that I don't find this blog really truly impressive. Hell, I might lower its standards were I to contribute officially.
Keep up the good work.

Comment posted on September 20, 2011 6:32 PM

Jim said:

I haven't watched "Two and a half men" for years and didn't really care about the Charlie Sheen soap opera, but I did check out the new season reboot and I'd be surprised if the revamped show survives beyond this season at best. Meanwhile, Sheen showed some class at the Emmys and settled with the producers for $100 million, including $25M in cash, so it looks like he's taking home the gold and letting Lorre keep the tin.

Comment posted on September 21, 2011 2:24 PM

Stuart said:

I think (Mr. Loore) MAY have left a small, tiny opening for a POSSIBLE return of Charlie Sheen. In the opening funeral scene, Rose says (parapharsed) "Charlie slipped off the platform and was hit by a train. he was like a baloon popping with meat flying everywhere". Also Alan remarks "there is not enough left of Charlie to be spit on". This may be a way of saying that Charlie is not really in the box. During the last scene of the season, Charlie could just walk thru the front door, and the screen fades to black. What a cliffhanger!!!

Comment posted on September 22, 2011 10:34 PM

chris said:

the show is not the same w/o charlie. with the closed casket they could bring him back easily....remember Dallas...woke up and it was all a dream. they could easily do that.. charlie's character is so out there... they would not have to explain much at all. the show needs charlie. i feel they will not renew the show w/o him.

Comment posted on October 24, 2011 7:13 PM
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