Two and a Half Men: did Ashton Kutcher cut it?

Can the American sitcom survive without Charlie Sheen? We visit a champagne-fuelled preview to find out...

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Two and a Half Men plus gallons of champagne. Last night, Comedy Central popped the corks for the sitcom’s season nine premiere at London’s Electric Cinema.

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Charlie Sheen was duly honoured in a let’s-get-it-over-with pre-screening speech. Not forgiven, perhaps, but not forgotten either, everyone was ready to move on from last year’s Twitter debacle in which Sheen insulted the show’s co-creator, Chuck Lorre.

Over in the US, where the show aired on Monday to record ratings, Sheen – tweeting as ever – had seen his old character Charlie Harper laid to rest – literally:

“Surrounded by friends and watching the premier of Two and a Half Men. Odd… But cool! So far a lot of laughs!! Nice… !”

Pretty stoic considering the episode opened with his on-screen persona being cremated. But Sheen was right. It was funny.

The old bowling shirt hung limply by the coffin, Charlie’s girls quipped inappropriately from the pews, and Rose described how Charlie “slipped” under a train the day after she found him with another woman. His body, she smiled, “exploded like a balloon full of meat”. A fitting tribute.

But getting back to the maths, what did Ashton Kutcher add to the show? A bit more than just a man, as it happens. Cast as lovelorn internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, Ashton wasted no time getting his kit off.

There was a reason – now, what was it..? Oh, yes, Walden had tried to drown himself, but the water was too cold, so he turned up soaked at Charlie’s old place. Alan (Jon Cryer) offered a towel and some fresh clothes and, before you knew it, there was Ashton in the buff. Admiring remarks from the cast but pixelation for the audience.

Comedy Central got two for the price of one by casting a model-turned-actor. I’m not sure they can keep cashing in on Ashton’s pecs, but it worked this time because Ashton was game to play the dumb blonde and you liked him for it.

Kutcher was never going to replace Charlie Harper, so the writers turned the character inside out and came up with an emotionally sensitive geek who knows how to make millions but can’t chat up girls. Does this mean Alan beats his new friend in the dating game? Of course not.

Charlie’s patter used to pull them in, but when Walden bursts into tears over his failed marriage, beautiful women just want to give him a hug. Alan gets to make the tea, Walden ends up in bed with his sympathetic companions. It’s business as usual at Malibu beach.

Jon Cryer has just got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and probably deserves more than half the credit for making the new pairing spark. But Ashton Kutcher, whose acting career could politely be described as hit and miss, certainly measures up.

His airy-fairy romanticism plays well against Cryer’s brittle one-liners. He’s a “hugger”, groans Alan, when Walden fondly embraces his new-found friend. Walden also happens to be naked (again). It’s good, toe-curling stuff and right in the tradition of the show.

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The revamped Two and a Half Men worked for me. There were smutty jokes aplenty for the old fans and an oddly likeable, bovine hunk to bring in some new ones. Here’s raising a toast to many more seasons to come.