Who wears short shorts? Charlie Sheen, that’s who, and if the mental image of one of Hollywood’s most famous sons in teeny khaki shorts is too much to bear, spare a thought for myself. Having endured 24 episodes of Mr Sheen’s hairy legs, I thought I’d never come out of my living room alive. But I digress…
Two and a Half Men is an American TV comedy starring two moderately famous movie stars in the lead roles – alongside Charlie Sheen is Jon Cryer, better known as Pretty in Pink’s Duckie. It’s also one of Channel Five’s US imports which the channel bought the rights for alongside Joey. Crucially though, is it funnier than the ex-Friends‘ star’s show?
On paper, it all sounds quite promising. Co-created by Chuck Lorre, who also had a hand in US sitcoms Roseanne, the very funny Grace Under Fire, Cybill and most recently The Big Bang Theory, it’s certainly got some sitcom pedigree behind it. Also, the cast is on the whole very strong and it’s far from being just the Charlie Sheen show.
For the uninitiated, Two and a Half Men centres on brothers Charlie and Alan Harper and Alan’s son Jake. Alan and Jake end up staying with jingle writer and serial womaniser Charlie in his Malibu beach pad after Alan is thrown out of his house by his ex-wife Judith. So, the basic premise in born. Two brothers, one straight-laced and put upon, one fun loving, irresponsible and sex mad are thrust together and episode plots revolve around them and how they both affect the life of young Jake.The problem Two and a Half Men was always going to have was that part of its charm in the first series was that Jake was very cute. Give a cute kid a funny line or place him in an inappropriate situation and laughs will undoubtedly ensue. With two differing father figures watching over him, Jake’s role as a third comedic foil was a given. But what happens when that same kid grows up and stops being cute?
Series three deals with the mechanics of this to some extent, with the facts of life and stickier parts of growing up all touched upon at various points throughout the series (Two And A Half Men is an unashamedly risqué production) but it can’t do anything about the actor himself. Unfortunately, said actor (Angus T Jones) isn’t great. I know he’s young but some of his lines are very clunkily delivered and it does jar when he has a major part to play in an episode. Take the first episode of this series, in which Jake’s Uncle Charlie has to take care of him after dad Alan injures himself. Jake is meant to be increasingly obnoxious as the episode goes on but if delivered with a little charm, you’d end up enjoying the performance. As it happens, you’re left wondering why Uncle Charlie just doesn’t whack him one, so annoying is the little sod.
The other problem with the series is that Charlie Sheen just isn’t that great a comedic actor. Remember when he took over from Michael J Fox in Spin City? The series was never the same and that’s because Mr Sheen, while a very charming screen presence, isn’t especially funny. So when he’s delivering obnoxious, sexist comments (which he does a lot) or when he’s being nice and reflective (not often) his acting is perfectly fine. It just doesn’t raise many laughs.
Jon Cryer on the other hand steals the show. It’s no surprise that the episodes revolving around his life are far more watchable than those about Charlie as Cryer knows how to deliver a good one-liner and does so with aplomb. The other comedic highlight is Rose. This long-time stalker of Charlie brightens every episode she is in and demonstrates how the show works better when it brings more characters to the table.
All-in-all, series three is a slow burner. I genuinely didn’t laugh once during the episodes on the entire first disc of this four-disc set, but as the series progresses and the story lines are no longer just throwaway excuses to marvel at Uncle Charlie’s crassness and Jake’s whiny attitude, it really finds its feet. Two long-running plots in particular (both revolving around Charlie and Alan’s respective new-found loves) work really well, lending depth to the comedy on show, and an episode about Charlie attending an awards ceremony for jingle writers (featuring a cameo from Jon Lovitz) is just brilliant. In terms of extras, this is a vanilla boxset but then it more than pays for itself by providing you with over eight hours of episodes.
So, Charlie Sheen’s legs aside, this is solid, if not gut-bustlingly funny, comedic ground.
Two And A Half Men season 3 is out now.