S9E9: Last week's episode "Thank You For Intercourse," was, hands down, the best of the season. It found the right balance—just enough of Ashton Kutcher's goofy charm, just enough of Jon Cryer's self-degradation and a just enough ridiculous, borderline-offensive humor to pepper a reasonably terrifying incident into a watchable 22-minutes of comedy. That might sound like a so-so summation, but for the Two and a Half Men of late, it's a rave.
So you can imagine my biggest fear for tonight: can the show possibly pull off the same magic twice? Could the writers and actors maintain the momentum of their new scenario? Thankfully, yes.
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!
1. "You should have used a condom. Or...you should have."
28 days after being admitted to a mental institution, Alan hugs his roomie Gary Busey and heads home—rejuvenated and ready to tackle any problem that crosses his path. But much to Alan's dismay, Murphy's Law has obliterated his life during the absence. On the drive home, Jake admits to his father that he impregnated his girlfriend Megan. Walden isn't any help, keeping an obvious secret from Alan as the duo struggle to talk Jake out of making even bigger mistakes. Like naming his future son "Frodo."
Tonight's episode continues a trend that I'd like to see survive and evolve, even when all of the current arc's problems wash away: the trio's true dynamic. When the titular two and a half men are all invested in a singular problem, they bounce off themselves quite well. Ashton's laidback optimist, Cryer's paranoid maniac and Angus T. Jones' oblivious dimwit manage to make the horrifying situation of leaving "the looney bin" only to find your life in disarray, into funny material. The show becomes less about the euphemisms and more about the reactions.
2. "Is it just me, or does Herb and Judith's kid look a lot like Alan?"
Continuing to harbor secrets while playing it cool, Walden watches from the sidelines as Alan, his ex-wife Judith and her husband Herb lose it over Jake's devastating baby news. Only making matters work, Walden's smugly muses on the likeness between Judith and Herb's baby Milly and Alan. Another can of worms to open?
"Frodo's Headshots" is very much an Alan show, as he trips over one hurdle after another. But subtly tipping us off that the situation may be more than it seems is Ashton, bringing out a slightly evil side of Walden, one that doesn't mind acting like a total ass and watching his friend suffer. It's quite amusing, as this isn't Walden juggling different personalities for the sake of cracking a joke that we've seen earlier in the season, but rather a heightened reality Walden that Ashton totally sells.
3. "Lyndsey was crying, I told her to come over, then Bippity boppity boop we're having sex."
Oh boy. Even more mayhem for Alan, who starts feeling smitten by a higher power when he discovers his girlfriend Lyndsey sleeping with Walden. Apparently, after Alan went off the deep end and landed in the hospital, Lyndsey took to Walden's shoulder for a good cry...and a good round of sexual intercourse.
Another great scene between Cryer and Ashton, showing off what their real capabilities when not deflated by hokey, low-brow jokes. This might be giving it too much credit, but this scene felt like a mirror to The Truman Show—an explosion of "This can't really be happening" with Cryer erupting like Jim Carrey and Ashton mimicking the Laura Linney actress/wife, staring blankly and acting like everything's normal. If I'm making comparisons to one of my favorite films of all time, you know I've either been brainwashed by subliminal messaging emitting from underneath the laugh track or the show's actually hitting the right marks. I'll take the latter.
4. "Crazy people don't talk like this. Regular people talk like this when they're talking to crazy people."
By the time Alan moves in to a storage unit at the airport, has a chance encounter with a seductive southern belle and takes a bullet to the chest from a crossed Herb, we know there's more than meets the eye to this episode. Turns out, it was all a dream, a hallucination Alan experienced while he was resting in bed at the hospital. And it doesn't feel like we're having the rug pulled from underneath our feet—rather, it's a fitting culmination to Alan's downward spiral from last episode.
Alan returns home to Walden, who replays the opening of the episode, except this time, it's full of sentimentality and hushed encouragement. I know there are a lot of Ashton Kutcher-haters out there, people who resent the guy for taking over a show they invested in and enjoyed every week thanks to Mr. Charlie Sheen. But watching him hug it out with Alan made me realize that these two make a great team, especially when they're looking out for each other. It's sappy and stupid, but I'd be lying if I said seeing the mismatched pair reuniting didn't make me smile. Just a wee bit.
5. "Computer, music on."
Walden closed out the episode by giving Alan a walkthrough of the new, redesigned house. Taking his knack for technology, Walden had Alan's Mom furnish the mansion into the "House of Tomorrow," complete with voice-activated lights and a phone-enabled ice maker. And to close, Alan makes an admission that's been lingering behind the action for sometime: why is he still living there? He admits he's a freeloader without any reason to stay, but Walden cuts him off. They're rommmates—who cares why!
Ashton was built to give silly-looking hugs and I'm glad the Walden character gives him the opportunity to deliver as many as possible. The episode closes on Whitney Huston belting "I'll Always Love You," the duo backlit by clouds and beaming light emitted from a giant big screen TV. Friendship!
Total Points: 37 - Four Charlie Sheen Heads!
This episode felt like a conclusion to the problems Alan's faced since Charlie's death, so I'm excited (and hopeful) for where the show can go next. The Odd Couple relationship is in play, and if Two and a Half Men can continue to defy expectations and avoid the potty humor, it should slowly start to revive its former glory. That is, if you agree with me.