After the months of hype and rumors, the Late Show with David Letterman appearances, the "All Will Be Revealed" promo ads, Two and a Half Men (CBS, Monday, 9 p.m. ET) finally took to the airwaves on Monday, with its first episode sans Charlie Sheen. Due to all that media chatter, we already knew the basic plotline: Charlie Harper would be killed off, and a broken-hearted internet billionaire (Ashton Kutcher) would be moving in.
Within the first few minutes, the details were provided. Friends, family and a gaggle of ex girlfriends (including Jeri Ryan, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Jenny McCarthy, Liz Vassey, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe and Tricia Helfer) gathered at Charlie's memorial service, where we're told that he was pushed in front of a subway train in Paris, apparently by his latest love, Rose (Melanie Lynskey). He'd cheated on her (big surprise), and the next thing you know, she was telling people that "his body exploded like a balloon full of meat."
If you were expecting a wistful goodbye to Sheen's long-running character, you got nothing of the sort. A meat-exploding body doesn't leave much room for future guest appearances by the troubled actor, no matter how conciliatory he's acted these past few weeks.
No, the episode made it resoundingly clear: Charlie Harper/Sheen is dead to Men creator Chuck Lorre. Even the guys' ashes were accidentally spilled on the floor, in a not-so-subtle, changing-of-the-guard scene. Alan (Jon Cryer) dropped the urn when he was spooked by Kutcher's character, Walden Schmidt, appearing for the first time at the window.
Charlie's own mother didn't even seem particularly bereaved. Sure Evelyn (Holland Taylor) was never a lovey-dovey sort, but all she seemed to care about was selling off the beach house. With added cameos from potential home buyers played by John Stamos, as well as Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson (weirdly appearing as their old characters from Dharma & Greg, another Lorre creation), the overriding message was this: Sorry, Charlie. The show's moved on. (And, by the way, more than 27 million viewers tuned in to see it happen!)
The effect of that message was harsh, but fitting. This show has never aimed to give viewers the warm and fuzzies. It's fueled by masturbation and fart jokes, after all. One-upping each other with cruel insults is what the brothers have always done best. Even in death, there's no love lost.
Based on the first episode, Kutcher's character should fit in just fine. He was often naked, and according to Alan, he's pretty well-equipped. And even when heart-broken, he's capable of bedding two women at once.
Fortunately, he's also a little dopey and naive, which makes the character softer than the irascible Charlie Harper, and therefore easier to like. He's arguably better-looking than Sheen, and most critics reviewing the episode have pointed out that he's an equally gifted comedian. "Kutcher’s performance was good, nearly as poker-faced fine as Sheen’s was," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker.
On the other hand, if you weren't a fan of the show to begin with, there's not much new here to attract you now. "Two and a Half Men is never too funny, never too odd, never too naughty," wrote Hank Steuver of the Washington Post. He added that Kutcher "demonstrated just how uncomplicated it is."
Charlie's out, and Ashton's in. You can't get less complicated than that.