S9E3: Are you familiar with the Stages of Grief? There are five: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The psychiatric theory seems surprisingly applicable to this season of Two and a Half Men.
Ashton Kutcher's Walden seems to, episode to episode, follow the pattern. Week one was denial, Walden unable to accept the ending of his relationship. Week two was anger, Walden driving like a madman and storming in to his ex Bridget's home. Now, theoretically, it's time for bargaining.
Once again, we'll be using our extremely scientific Charlie Sheen head points system to rate Ashton Kutcher's performance. Is he living up to expectations? is he helping win over audience members, dealing with their own Stages of Grief over Charlie Sheen's departure? Let's find out. Here's the breakdown:
One Charlie Sheen Head (1 - 10 Points): Ashton, you were in this episode.
Two Charlie Sheen Heads (11 - 20 Points): Ashton, you landed a few jokes, but we can't stop thinking about good ol' Charlie.
Three Charlie Sheen Heads (21 - 30 Points): Ashton, you earned tonight's laugh track. Solid.
Four Charlie Sheen Heads (31 - 40 Points): Ashton, we're impressed. You've surpassed Sheen-level kookiness.
Five Charlie Sheen Heads (41 - 50 Points): Ashton, you're scaring us with classic levels of comedy. Charlie who?
That's that, now on with the third round of the Ashton Kutcher Two and a Half Men scorecard!
"Big Girls Don't Throw Food"
1. "Nice kid...with the big head...?"
There's a side to Ashton's Walden Schmidt that I'm worried might become the norm: the flat, straight man. Before the first commercial break, Walden doesn't get a single moment to shine, instead using long-winded tech speak ("I'm building a neurometric back end for a social media site") as an alley-oop for Alan's incompetent one-liners. With a kind of chipper engagement, this could work...but as an opener, Ashton looks half asleep. Not until the main thrust of tonight's episode—Jake's moving back in!—does he wake up and remember that Alan even has a kid.
2. "Hey! Don't make hitting your deal."
We're not quite at Ashton's two and a half episode mark before he finally gets a solid scene with Angus T. Jones' Jake (but wouldn't that have been a nice meta moment?), but neither character really livens up the show with their comedic stylings. Jake admits he's terrible at school and Walden reveals that he was too. Whereas Jake's a nincompoop, Walden was just too smart for class—prompting Jake to believe that this might be his "deal" too. Walden instills some confidence in the 17-year-old, but not before taking some friendly punches to the arm.
Jake is Two and a Half Men's deadpan alternative, but for the last few episodes, that's been Walden. When you pair them up, you get a whole lot of nothing. I guess we needed to start a story arc somewhere.
3. "Should have asked the kid."
Now, Ashton doesn't need to be doing his crazy clown act every scene to elicit the laughs. After making dinner plans with his ex-wife Bridgett, Walden consults Alan for some tips on winning her back. Obvious mistake, but it does send Jon Cryer into an comfortably humorous spiel about women's feelings, luring back loved ones and locating the g-spot. It's tried and true Alan material, but the show lets Ashton have his fun, letting his discomfort read plainly on his face for our amusement.
I'm not sure how or why Walden can go from brainless manchild to classier-than-thou adult at the drop of the hat, but it makes him malleable and delivers the funny. I won't complain.
4. "Hot soup! Hot soup!"
Ah yes, here's why Bridget dumped this poor slob!
Walden makes the completely un-romantic decision to take his soul mate to a restaurant on par with Sizzler's (that's not a diss at Sizzler's—it just may not be the best place to win back your former loved ones) and, of course, he flounders. Let's take a moment to to bask in the combo of Ashton Kutcher and Judy Greer. Every moment these two are paired together is gold. Whether it's a tender moment (Walden: "You have feelings for me?" Bridget: "Yes, I still have feelings for you. We were married 15 years.") or one that's a bit more over-the-top (Walden spills hot soup on himself, Bridget watches, completely unsurprised), the duo works.
Unfortunately, who knows how much we'll see her—Walden ruins the date by starting a food fight with a pestering ten-year-old and it's clear the two won't be reuniting.
Ashton caps the night on another low point. When he returns (in tears) to his home, he finds Alan's ex-wife Judith. She comforts Walden in his fragile state, but as we've discovered with the self-made millionaire, he's rarely capable of warding off female company. The two hook up...and Jake catches it all on tape. Here's a guarantee this will resurface in future episodes.
The scene's funny enough, but again, Ashton's not bringing anything to the table with the overly emotional Walden. It's not funny that he can't find a way to reconnect with his soul mate. In fact, if there wasn't a laugh track, it would be really, really sad. A show like Louie can straddle the line, but with Two and a Half Men, I'm looking for the laughs.
Total Points: 20 - Two Charlie Sheen Heads!
After two unexpectedly solid episodes, Ashton-captained Two and a Half Men went a little sour. With multiple Walden's flying around (Is he super hyperactive? Is he flat and zoned out? Is he an expressive straight man?), you never know what to expect—but this outing hit more wrong notes than right.
But I still think there's hope. The show can find a groove with its new leading man, give him a consistency and regain its former glory. While we're still mourning the loss of Charlie Sheen, let's join Walden Schmidt as he inches closer to the final stage of grief: Acceptance. That give Ashton at least a fighting chance to win us over completely.