There are some shows that strive to be great, create a lasting influence on future generations, and perhaps take home a few golden statuettes in the process. Then, there are the shows that settle for mere enjoyability or mediocrity, escapist entertainment that is easy to watch but not particularly groundbreaking. Two and a Half Men is the third type of TV show. It's the rare type of show about farts, transsexuals, farting transsexuals, and having sex with farting transsexuals.
But the story of Two and a Half Men isn't all farts and sunshine. Though a commercial behemoth in its first eight seasons, the show later became plagued with casting quibbles that threatened its very existence.
In 2002, Chuck Lorre went bowling with his network executive pals for Greg's fiftieth birthday. Some time between Nick's third strike and Joe's beer run, Chuck got an idea for a new sitcom in a flash of brilliance.
"Wait, guys, wait! Joe, put down the beer and sit down, you're gonna want to hear this." Joe sat down, but he refused to put down his beer. Rebelliously, he took a cautionary sip.
"Get this: a television show about two guys who are opposites... and live with each other." An inspired juxtaposition that was, most importantly, completely original to the ears of the executives. After some quick research roughly six weeks into the production of Two Men, they discovered that ABC had aired a nearly identical show about forty years earlier. A little snap thinking and rewriting later, Lorre revised his idea:
"Get this: they live with a kid." This finally made Joe put down his beer. Eyebrows raised. Hands clapped. And there you have it.
- Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper, a man. Sheen's foul-mouthed ultra-selfish portrayal has been praised by the media for being "unusually restrained."
- Jon Cryer as Alan Harper, a man. Chuck Lorre mentioned that Alan differs from The Odd Couple's Felix Unger because Alan "is played by Jon Cryer."
- Angus T. Jones as Jake Harper, a half-man half-walking-fart-joke hybrid. Jackass's Wee Man was considered for the role but he turned it down, citing "creative integrity" as his reason.
A Time of Troubles
The show enjoyed such ridiculous success with the plebians that it became CBS's flagship sitcom, nearly revitalizing the neglected genre of multi-camera sitcommery with replicas such as The Big Bang Theory (or "Two and a Half Nerds"). However, a ruthless antagonist to the show's success reared its ugly head in 2011: mother nature.
Against all of the producers' expectations, child actor Angus T. Jones began to naturally age. Soon, it would be time for his bar mitzvah, and he would at last be a grown man in the Jewish tradition. This spelled disaster for Lorre and Co., who would soon find a strange show called Three Men on their hands if appropriate action wasn't taken. One couldn't risk changing the show's successful formula, in fear of scaring away their mostly-mentally-invalid audience, so they scrambled to find a solution before Jones's bar mitzvah ceremonies could take place.
The simplest way to nip the problem in the bud was to sever Angus Jones back to half-man status somehow. Word of this insidious plan got around Hollywood thanks to a crucial leak, and Angus Jones fled the country to escape being hewed at the torso by desperate television executives. Despite his best efforts, hiding from CBS forever is an impossible mission, and Jones was recaptured eight weeks later in the Bolivian jungles, where he subsisted on a steady diet of brown-green water and somewhat-poisonous toads. Since his deteriorated physical state guaranteed a failed "halfsies" surgery, the operation was reluctantly called off. After a series of heartbreaking montages and large cash settlements, Jones returned to full health, legally immune from any further diabolical schemes against his midsection.
Soon thereafter, panic brewed at CBS's official gigantic drawing board. Fresh solutions required great improvisation at this stage of the game, with time's wheel rapidly spinning and the interim season drawing to a close. They pulled out all the stops at once: a flock of lawyers descended upon Jones' rabbi and forced him to delay the half-man's bar mitzvah until after production ended, buying more time for the hopelessly uncreative producers. A firm man of faith, the rabbi would not cave in to the mountains of gelt laid at his feet. Still, the clock kept on ticking. Sweat trickled down brows, around white collars, and into dark-pink armpits.
Two weeks later, almost every idea was scratched out into oblivion on Lorre's oversized college-ruled notepad.
- Replace Jones with a midget? Trouble with the Midget's Union.
- Replace Jones with a black man? Focus groups do not want to watch Two and Three-Fifths Men.
- Replacing Jones with a man in a wheelchair? Do you even know how expensive those are nowadays?
- Replace Jones with a woman? Completely missing the entire god damn motherfucking point.
Hopeless, Hopeless, Always with the Hopelessness
With only two weeks until judgment day, Lorre and friends lost all hope. Three Men wouldn't be so bad, maybe. All they had to change were a few small things. Obviously, a whole other man upset the "two man" dynamic the original show relied so heavily upon. An entire new set of comic fundamentals would need to replace the old styles.
Lorre drafted his despairing adjustments in dry-erase on the aforementioned 30 ft drawing board at CBS HQ. Three Men meant equivalent power sharing between the stars: no longer could Jones be left the table-scrap fart jokes just because he was the kid; now he had to get some of the good fart jokes too. In case the fart jokes of yesteryear couldn't traverse the great divide, a whole new system of slapstick was devised as a brand new comedic crutch, wherein the three stars would hypothetically whinny, flap their arms, and poke and bonk each other to their heart's content.
"Optimally," said Lorre, his hair tossed and tousled beyond any civil limits, "Jon Cryer would have to gain 60 pounds and go completely bald for this to work."
One executive spoke up skeptically: "Doesn't that sound a little bit like the Three Stooges?"
Lorre's face went completely blank, ten seconds of silence. "The three whats?"
When suddenly, Heaven came bursting through the door.
Sheengate: The Silver Lining
"You all have to turn on the TV right now," said intern Frankie Heaven, grasping for the remote. There was something very important on TV and its name was Charlie Sheen. Everyone knows how the story goes, or at least they knew for the 15 minutes after it happened: in a nutshell, Sheen went nutshells. Said some things about angels, blood, fire, winning, muscles, queens, something or other, lots of other things. Suddenly, Sheen the Whole Man became a liability to the show.
Jones wasn't a problem. A whole man replaces a whole man. One-half to go.
Good news. Great news, even. The negotiations with Sheen pushed production forward a few months, plus provided a tremendous amount of publicity for a half-role that was previously half-demanded. Outside contractors and dwarf unions suddenly lined out the door with their own proposed solutions. After a week of careful consideration, L.O.R.E. and the Posse picked the most logical proposition of the bunch: Ashton Kutcher would sign on to replace Sheen as a post-op transsexual. It was the most beautiful, elegant solution they could ever imagine, for the following reasons:
- Ostensibly, Jones was still the half-man. Sure, he was a bar mitzvah'd man, but he still looked like a kid to anyone who wasn't named Chaim Levine.
- Kutcher looks like a whole man on screen, seeming to fill in Sheen's spot instead of Jones'. However, according to the script, he doesn't have a penis, so he's only a half-man.
- Jon Cryer as Alan Harper, a man.
- Angus T. Jones as Jake Harper, a man. Mazel tov!
- Ashton Kutscher as Charlene Harper, a half-man, kind of.
Since all two and a half men were adults, now, the show's focus had some growing up to do. The changes would come quickly and be awkward to deal with, but such things happen to all shows that aren't murdered in their infant years. While it is all fun and games to make fart jokes when there is a kid around, it just seems childish when everyone's old enough to masturbate. Since Sheen left the building, the show appropriately traded in its toilet humor for viciously lewd jokes about boobs, vaginas, penises, and all those other genitals.
These scripting alterations had a negative impact on the show's depiction of women characters. What were once strong, self-confident, and obsessively insane female role models suddenly became brash, arrogant, and obsessively insane shallow sex symbols. This transformation actually started to occur before Sheen's departure, due to his naturally Casanovan personality shining through during rewrites. It became a rare occasion for a female character to sprout up without a sexual history longer than her grocery list; a subtle lack of a surname was just icing on the cake.
The misogynistic leanings were noticed by the critical community, who did not let the show go unpunished come awards season. Though it has been nominated for thirty Primetime Emmy awards during its run, it has only won a minuscule five.
The Dark and Distant Future
It seems that, for now, the troubles of Two and a Half Men have drawn to a close. For now, that is true, for now. But only for now (as of 2019).
Jones is now able to drive. Given Hollywood's tradition of rebooting older properties, will they start filming rebooted episodes where he is driving a car, instead of Cryer or the stereotypically unskillful female Kutcher? In addition, he can vote and go off to war. Will the reboot take a stark dramatic turn, earning Emmys for the whole cast and crew? If that weren't enough, Jones is now able to drink and drive, which could eventually lead to his tragic death, forcing another panicked recasting conundrum.
For now, Chuck Lorre is laughing all the way to the bank. But just as children grow up, men wither away and die. Two and a Half Men will do the same, twice-and-a-half times.