Monday, April 9, 2012

CBS-TV's 'Two and a Half Men': Kutcher Vs. Sheen

By Imogen Reed for The Smoking Nun
With the current season of CBS-TV’s “Two and a Half Men” drawing to a close and reports of Ashton Kutcher signing up for for next year, The Smoking Nun decided to explore just how Kutcher has stacked up against predecessor Charlie Sheen.

The show’s writers never sought to have Kutcher emulate Sheen’s character, but do viewers prefer the innocent charm of Kutcher’s billionaire geek Walden Schmidt or are they still mourning the loss of raucous, immoral yet ultimately loveable hedonist Charlie Harper, a la Sheen?

Season Nine first launched September 19, 2011 and opened with the funeral of Charlie Harper, who dubiously "fell" in front of a train in Paris. Despite leaving his infamous Malibu beach house to brother Alan (Jon Cryer), it transpires that Charlie had taken multiple mortgages out on the house and Alan is no longer able to afford it.

Enter Walden Schmidt: a suicidal, broken-hearted billionaire who offers to buy the house after trying to drown himself in the ocean and then forming a friendship with Alan. Thus, a new trio is born and Walden, Alan and Alan’s son Jake (Angus T. Jones) begin living together as an even more dysfunctional surrogate family unit.

Reviews about the new series’ scenario of “Two and a Half Men” weren’t great. CBS was accused of trying to fill an iconic actor’s shoes with such tactics as having Kutcher spend most of the first episode walking around naked. Apparently even close-ups of Kutcher’s smokin’ hot body weren’t enough to prevent criticism against the writers for resorting to cheap tricks in order to distract the audience from the fact that Kutcher lacked the experience, popularity and comic timing that Sheen readily possessed.

With ratings of the first episode of Season Nine at a staggering 28.7 million viewers, it appeared that audiences were eager to see how Kutcher fared, but ultimately the general consensus was that he just isn’t that funny. Even Sheen launched a verbal attack on Kutcher earlier this year, saying, “I’m tired of lying. I’m tired of pretending Ashton doesn’t suck.” For sure, nobody was expecting him to wish Kutcher luck in his new venture or to send a him a gift parcel, but this outburst seemed harsh, even by Sheen's standards.

However, as the series progressed, it seemed Kutcher grew into his role and viewers began accepting Walden Schmidt in his own right, instead of judging him against Charlie Harper. The fact is that the two characters are massively diverse, with different personalities, views and ethics. Whereas Charlie was an arrogant and an illicit womanizer, Walden is a more sensitive soul who visibly lacks experience with women yet genuinely wants to settle down and find true love.

You certainly wouldn’t catch Charlie Harper feeling dejected if a girlfriend didn’t return an "I love you," as is the case with Walden and Zoey in Episode 17 of this season. Similarly, all of Charlie’s wealth and fortune seemed to unjustly fall into his lap, whereas Walden is a self-made billionaire who has worked hard to earn his keep. Perhaps these subtle hints at the differences in morality between the two also helped the audience warm to Walden. Either way, viewers have to accept that the dynamic of the show has changed (who would have ever guessed that Alan would be the one dishing out advice on women?!) and those who were so eager to deprecate Kutcher have to remember why he’s there in the first place: because Charlie Sheen messed up badly.

As the highest-earning U.S. television actor, you would assume Sheen would have valued his keep more. But his controversial personal life, substance abuse and public insults against the shows co-creator, Chuck Lorre, left producers with little choice but to fire him. Despite originally alienating and annoying fans with his crazy behavior, he seemed to win back popularity with a few gracious public appearances, while even his infamous “winning” interview became a slogan.

But it was too late to win back favor with the “Two and a Half Men” producers, meaning someone would have to replace him or the show would be cut altogether.

It was not an easy role to fill, but Kutcher has done it his own way—and despite ratings taking a dip since the first episode of Season Nine, “Two and a Half Men” has come out on the other side and remains one of the most-watched sitcoms on TV. With Kutcher raking in around $700,000 per episode, it seems he’s more than delight to usher Walden Schmidt into a sophomore season. *