S9E7: Last week's episode "The Squat and The Hover" hit a new low. Even by Two and a Half Men standards, it was crass and ugly. The episode squeezed out two Charlie Sheen heads, but not without losing some of my faith in the process. Week to week I attempt to give Ashton Kutcher the credit he deserves, but after a slew of homophobic cracks and a flailing narrative, I realized my interest was waning.
If Ashton's going to step up and make Two and a Half Men work on his terms, he's got to aim higher. Let's see how he does tonight. Here's the scorecard 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 Ashton Kutcher Two and a Half Men scorecard!
"Those Fancy Japanese Toilets"
1. "I want to go green...unless Brookstone comes up with a compact nuclear reactor, because who wouldn't want one of those?"
Ashton sits out of tonight's cold open, which sees Alan and his mother Evelyn unveiling the contents of Charlie's secret safe deposit box. Inside they find a journal—but even that discovery can't keep Evelyn's eyes off Walden. Maneuvering in her usual seductive manner, the Harper mother convinces Walden to take her on as an interior decorator. Ashton doesn't have much room to play here, but slips into goofball mode as he imagines the possibilities of remodeling the home. Kind of dull back-and-forth and completely overshadowed by a trashy joke dropped by Alan in the opening. Conveying how odd his mother is, Alan proclaims, "It's a miracle I'm not a transsexual on Dancing with the Stars." Is that a backhanded Chaz Bono dig? Yikes.
These are the moments I pray Ashton enters the set and saves the show.
2. "Can we get one of those fancy Japanese toilets that sprays water and cleans your tushie?"
No matter how many groan-worthy lows the show hits this season, I still believe that Ashton's Walden is a viable character that can sustain Two and a Half Men. Where he comes from and what he strives to become makes for good character, good dynamic and good comedy. That said, when the writers simply use him to make silly statements, like the five-minute-long riff on kooky additions he can make to his bathroom and bedroom, I zone out. Walking the pad with Evelyn, making suggests like marble countertops and a a balcony jacuzzi, Ashton discovers Charlie's bedroom ceiling cam. Apparently Walden's forgotten how much he loves his ex-wife Bridget, as he's now ready to sleep with as many chicks as possible (and tape them).
3. "Do you think a bit of better butter would make her butter better?"
Alan, realizing Walden might be in over his head with Evelyn, tries to convince the childish billionaire to beware of her super duper uber cougar tactics—but to no avail. Tonight, Walden is in 100% flake mode, determined to make funny sounds to his voice-activated electric car and spout tongue twisters, rather than heed Alan's warnings. He's a computer genius with no street smarts. This moment isn't the smartest comedy the world's ever seen, but at least it balances the various sides of Walden that we've seen on display. That is to say, the show actually makes sense for five minutes.
4. "I think we should keep our relationship business, not bizzzz-nass."
After a day of furniture shopping, Walden walks Evelyn to her door, only to be invited in for a drink. The seduction tactics are now apparent to Walden, who can't break Evenlyn's tractor beam innocence to vacate the situation. He proceeds, they do it, and the regret immediately sets in. This is Ashton at his best. Whereas tonight's entire Alan/Charlie's journal through-line consisted of Jon Cryer describing Charlie's life of coke snorting and hooker banging, Ashton actually made some attempt to ground Walden in reality, piling on funny bits of physical humor as Walden squirms in fright from sleeping with Evelyn. The minute of post-sex, mouth agape shock is priceless.
5. "What an affectionate family."
The episode ends with Walden returning home, finding Alan in awe of the fact that Charlie loved him, and Jake full of joy after taking advantage of his chemistry partner (who's infatuated with Walden). Walden's encounter with Evenlyn isn't something he's able to shake, and I'm hoping this will be a thread through a few episodes. Can Alan's new best friend really get away sleeping with his Mom? This is a conflict I want to see and the show did a nice job of setting up the problem for long-term potential. If they could have done it with a few less Jake fart jokes, it would be even better!
Total Points: 26 - Three Charlie Sheen Heads!
OK, Ashton. You managed to go up from this episode. I'll give you that.
"Those Fancy Japanese Toilets" had some genuine laughs and concrete character moments, but, per usual, the "racy" material (read: plain old offensive) brings down the ship. But Ashton prevailed, proving he may actually be what keeps Two and a Half Men afloat in the absence of Charlie Harper. Would the writers ever take a chance and try to abandon the ham-fisted sex jokes? Ball's still in your court, Ashton.