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Two and a Half Thumbs Up!

By The TV Fan | TV | April 1, 2010 |

By The TV Fan | TV | April 1, 2010 |

Always the contrarian, I’ve railed against “Two and a Half Men” for years as the epitome of what’s wrong with television comedies. But lately, with so many of my coworkers continuing to tell me that it’s their favorite comedy, I found myself wondering if this harsh criticism is really fair and whether revisiting the show might change my heart. So I watched a few old episodes, along with some episodes from the past few weeks and, well, consider this my mea culpa, because yes, “Two and a Half Men” is hilarious.

One of the things I was missing about this show is the genius of its intentional simplicity — it’s not trying to be a deeply complex sitcom, it’s not trying to act as a satirical commentary on modern politics or popular culture, it’s not asking the viewer to be committed to complex week-to-week ongoing storylines. Rather, it’s simply trying to be a deeply funny show about men being men, doing the hilarious things that men are wont to do. And within this simplistic approach is the show’s brilliance!

Take the season two episode, “Smell the Umbrella Stand,” which I’m told some consider a classic. Alan (Jon Cryer) is all worked up about getting a colonoscopy, something which many men can relate to. Who wouldn’t be neurotic about a camera getting shoved up their hindquarters while they’re unconscious, being in such a vulnerable position while the doctors do who knows what up there? (At least, as his brother tells him, it’s not like the olden days, when they’d put a sketch artist up there!) And from this very routine event in a man’s life, the show puts together a scene of comic genius that manages to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable on network TV. Set in the kitchen, Alan and his brother Charlie (Charlie Sheen) decide to go to Vegas to get Alan’s mind off the impending intrusion. The dialogue between the two is great, because it’s written just like us men talk, and I could see myself having the exact same conversation were I trying to convince one of my nebbish friends to join me for a weekend jaunt to Vegas. But the scene’s brilliance is the added layer of Bertha, the cleaner, who is working on a clogged drain in the background, as Alan and Charlie’s ongoing riffs are punctuated by grunted-out expressions of frustration over the drain snake (“Come on, get in there you sucker!” … “It. Just. Won’t. Go in!” … “Oh perfect, now I can’t get it out.”). Each comment gives Alan an extra bit of twitchy anxiety about his upcoming procedure, while giving us, the viewer, extra laughs in an already funny scene. My ultimate point here is that it’s easy to see why this episode is a classic!

But jumping ahead five years to last week’s “Ixnay on the Oggie Day,” the show is not only as fresh as it was back in the beginning, but it’s arguably even fresher and cleverer. For this episode, the writers deftly decided to do a modern take on the otherwise worn down, “Friends”-old punchline of “we were on a break.” In the midst of a breakup, Charlie has sex with his ex’s best friend and then debates with himself, as well as his ex, the impact of this event on their getting back together. This was countered by an over-the-top storyline where chiropractor Alan deals with a new patient who is using his services to get herself off. Yes, its rude and it’s crude, but it’s also drop-dead funny! And as if all this weren’t enough, and even though the show is perfectly content to keep its focus on the simple laughs, it still managed to offer a nice little side-commentary on our “ongoing healthcare crisis,” for those looking for something deeper, and timely, in their comedy. But that’s really beside the point, and wholly unnecessary, when the writers can hit you with gems like “there’s no arguing with a boner!” (It’s true — there isn’t!)

Last year, Jon Cryer took home his first Emmy for playing Alan. While I can’t really complain about that, what I can complain about is the fact that Charlie Sheen hasn’t taken home an Emmy of his own yet. He lost last year to Alec Baldwin, and sure, Baldwin is very funny on “30 Rock,” but it seems that Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy is becoming a little one-note at this point. Sheen’s Charlie, however, is actually becoming more and more nuanced as time goes on. Charlie is a complete rapscallion and yet Sheen deftly pulls you in so that you embrace the rascal and love him while you’re laughing. Again, the point of the show is to offer us men being men, and that means that every once in a while we need to see that, buried deep beneath the dick and fart jokes, men have this tiny little nougat of heartwarming goodness. Sheen’s deftly keeps this in his back pocket, as he and the writers understand the risk of making things feel maudlin and taking away from the underlying goal of delivering laughs. But Sheen’s natural delivery and keen sense of timing means that the show can give you just that little touch of grounding that makes the raunchy humor all the funnier.

Men men men men, manly men men men? I say it should be men men men men, hilarious men men men!


Seth Freilich is the TV Fan! He apologizes in advance to his neighbors for all the through-the-walls laughter that is going to be disturbing them for the next few weeks, as he catches up with the rest of his newly-purchased “Two and a Half Men” DVDs.

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.