S9E8: Since Ashton Kutcher began his stint on Two and a Half Men, the show has remained fairly safe. Sure, it's full of racy humor and crazy scenarios cooked up for Kutcher's man child Walden Schmidt, but for all intents and purposes, it's the same show. Unfortunately, making a big casting change while keeping the format intact hasn't been that...successful. You need Charlie Harper to make the Charlie Harper show work.
But tonight's episode threw the season's first curveball. It shifted Walden into full-on supporting mode and let Alan run wild, embodying the spirit of Charlie. The move was a step up on the writers and performers parts, but as always, let's take a scientific look at how Ashton fared.
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!
"Thank You for the Intercourse"
1. "It's got oats and corn and wheat! It's the sweetest breakfast treat! It's Maaaaple-ilicious!"
Tonight's Men kicks off like any other—but even the throw away gags in this episode garner a few more laughs than normal. The episode opens with Walden pouring himself a bowl of Maple Loops, a breakfast cereal with a jingle, Alan informs us, written by the late Charlie Harper. This alley-oops Ashton to do what he does best: act like an infant. While Walden rattles off countless commercial tunes, Alan loses himself in memories of Charlie, finally realizing his brother's dead. Gone. Forever.
What makes it work is that Ashton keeps up the happy-go-lucky attitude. He has no emotional connection to anyone on the show, and can do whatever the heck he wants, and in this moment it's sing stupid songs.
2. "Sorry, I'll just tell the kids they have to keep practicing on the painted slab of wood."
In a normal episode of the show, Alan's conceit would have been brushed off in favor of a continuation of last week's bland "redecorating the house" storyline (and to be fair, it does this to some extent) but instead of conducting business as usual, the through-line chooses the road less traveled. Charlie's grand piano is the last possession Alan has to connect to deceased sibling. Turns out, Walden didn't love it, and donated the space-wasting keyboard to a school for underprivileged children. Alan isn't ready to let go that easy. Enough that Walden must pull the lanky man off the musical instrument. Thank God, because for the first time in eight episodes, the two titular men finally have something to struggle over.
Think of a great episode of comedy television, anything from Arrested Development or Community to Cheers or Taxi. They're about the jokes, but underneath is actual conflict. Tonight, Alan and Walden found that friction without being cheap. Alan confronting his brother's death was a great excuse for him to stop telling lame sex jokes. Walden had to deal with it. No matter how trite the show gets, Jon Cryer and Ashton are good actors, and this scene where two movers haul away Alan's last memento of Charlie was great evidence to support that fact.
3. "You're depressed. And when you're depressed you drink. And when you drink you come here. If you were a fat guy, I would have checked where they make pies."
So Alan is spiraling downward, sick to death that Walden is getting all the ladies by being tall, handsome, rich, brilliant and...nice. What else is new?
The twist in this particular bar scene is that Ashton pulls all the way back, not staring into oblivion with a dumb smile on his face, but authentically trying to convince Alan that he possesses the ability to have relationships with women. That sounds heavy, but this uphill battle makes for a good round of laughs. Alan is exclaiming defeatist epiphanies, in his typical nasty and poetic fashion, but they play better when there's something at stake. Ashton's smart here. He doesn't have to do much to make it all work. Going big and showy and...Waldeny...would implode the episode.
4. "Well, Mr. Penis is happy. Time to take care of Mr. Stomach."
Without trying too hard, Walden does lands a lady at the bar (not helping Alan's situation), and he finally comprehends the wonders of casual sex. The newly-single billionaire is in the same boat as Charlie Harper, but approaching it in an entirely different manner, maybe even in a positive way. Walden is gleeful and excited to tell Jake that he's living it up Charlie-style, but never without imparting wisdom on the young lad or living by his Mr. Nice Guy code. This couldn't be more different than Alan, who's realized the benefits of impersonating Charlie. Donning his clothes, his drinking habits and his behavior, Alan evolves into his own version of Charlie—the polar opposite of Ashton's current Walden—and reaps the benefits, by sleeping with a gorgeous stranger.
One week saw the cast slipping into routine, exerting little to no effort. This week, everyone's changing the game. Even Jake wakes up and comes to Walden to alert him that something's wrong, that steps need to be taken to save his father.
Two and a Half Men's getting weird and I like it!
5. "Why don't you get some rest, lick your finger, stick it in a light socket and we'll address this in the morning."
It's in the last act of the episode that "Thank You for the Intercourse" really goes off the rails.
Walden stages an intervention to try and bring back the Alan from the possession of Charlie Harper's ghost, but his attempts are moot. All Alan can do is smoke cigars and talk about having sexual relations with random women. He loves it. Walden realizes he's unprepared and unfit for the task at hand—specifically when Alan shows up smoking a cigar naked in the shower with him—so he concocts a plan. The duo take a road trip to Las Vegas—at least, that's where Walden tells Alan they're going. But it's all trickery, as Walden checks his friend into a psychiatric hospital. Apparently Alan's mental issue much more serious than the rest of the kooky episode would make you think—and in a way, that's why it's such a treat.
For the first time this season, it feels like the show "went there." Or, better, is going there. This scene would have scored even higher if it hadn't been for the (inevitable) "winning" joke. We get it. The real Charlie Sheen went mental, and now that's Alan's same fate. The episode's only sloppy moment.
Sorry, Ashton. I know that wasn't your fault.
Total Points: 36 - Four Charlie Sheen Heads!
Maybe it's just the shock of seeing something fresh on Men, but Ashton's performance against Cryer's unique Alan/Charlie hybrid was enlivened and inspired (and same for Mr. Cryer). This episode felt like something out of Louie, where the goal isn't to make you cackle with laughter, but titter with a twinge of emotional pain. This episode was dark as heck and both leads stood up to the plate. If Two and a Half Men can avoid floundering this sensitive material in upcoming episodes, it may have the legs it needs to survive. At least for a few more scorecards.