Misfortune + Time = Comedy, and Boy Toy replacement is no Charlie Sheen.
Original Story: Reuters
In the big scheme of things, Two And A Half Men will never offer the world much beyond the glance given a turd before its flushed. I mean, do you care if a few super-rich TV producers fail in repeating their precious formula? I don’t. Yet the replacement of Charlie Sheen with Ashton Kutcher bears examination, if for no other reason than it’s a symptom of something bigger than the show itself.
Casting Kutcher in place of Sheen is a great example of the axiom – made ultra-popular by several recent US politicians – the more you say it, the more it becomes the truth. It’s the lazy way out, a lowering of the bar that allows producer Chuck Lorre to turn his own admission that Kutcher is actually “joyful” into a public posture that Kutcher is somehow perfect for the part of a washed-up, burned-out rebel. No need to find a real rebel: Kutcher can simply be made into one by the power of positive reinforcement + he has 6.8 million Twitter followers.
In fact, Ashton Kutcher is a can of hairspray, a pampered stand-in who’ll be packaged ‘n promoted in a way that Sheen never needed to be: as subversive. It’s a transparent grab for the demographic to which the Kutcher brand is marketed – never mind the letdown when fans are pulled from the story and reminded of Kutcher’s hard knowledge-gap with every line of dialog. The show’s writers are superb, but they can only do so much.
“Charlie Harper” is an elderly adolescent, a self-deluding, womanizing, smart-ass. He swims in alcohol and struggles with deceit, integrity, and reliability. What Sheen brings to the table (aside from a sharp tongue and smoker’s face) is his own human duration, his hard-won knowledge of loss and difficult lessons learned. When Sheen-as-Harper is remorseful or fleetingly reflective, the audience isn’t in doubt, it’s engaged. When the character faces the consequences of his self-seeking actions, it’s the actor who supplies the humanity and humor.
Even if we remove from the picture Sheen’s sensationalized personal background, at least the guy is age-appropriate to play a character with foreseeable liver cancer and smokestacks of guilt. Yes-yes, it’s silly for audiences to believe that what they’re seeing is actually plausible: it’s a sitcom, for cryin’ out loud. But it’s not silly to give an audience a reason to play along – at least don’t rob them of the chance with poor casting.
The point is, audiences still need to relate to an actor’s interpretation. So let’s look at a sizeable subsection of Two And A Half Men’s audience, guys for whom the show has had real value as a provider of relatable laughter. Prison inmates. As I’ve said elsewhere, in an interview for FoxNews.com, the appeal of the show is it’s:
…fast-paced, snappy dialogue, which is often crude, insult-heavy, and almost always focused on another character’s shortcomings. Such banter is the envy of those who carry internal “wish-lists” of things they could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve said throughout their own trials and tribulations. What three-term parolee hasn’t been similarly dismissed? What convict hasn’t been verbally lashed this way by family members or other casualties of his or her bad behavior?
…while Sheen’s character Charlie is, in many ways, the pinnacle of the selfish, self-centered, narcissistic ass, he nevertheless takes care of his brother, loves his nephew, even loves his mom – just like every inmate in the audience wishes he could, would, or claims he does. There’s redemption in that, and along with a strong, collective opposition to child-abuse, it’s a fundamental value that brings all inmates together.
In the civilian world, even if Charlie Sheen 2011 were as fruitfully reeducated and well dressed as Robert Downey, Jr., like Downey he’d still have uncertainties, regrets, and substance struggles to pull from and transfer to his Two And A Half Men character – or any other. What self-inflicted degradation has Kutcher withstood (save for his marriage to modern-day Norma Desmond)? What has he deciphered about life beyond a Hollywood hustle? What stretches of career stagnation has he endured? How friggen’ despondent do you think Wonder Boy has ever been?
We’re increasingly expected to be okay with buying what we’re told to buy and believing what is repeated often enough. The entertainment industry feeds us crappy remakes and serial sequels and leaves us to assume that inventiveness is something to celebrate in other eras of movie and TV history. Two And A Half Men’s producers are banking on this, trusting that audiences will grumble a little and keep right on watching. And why not? It’s what we do with our careers, our diets, our government, and with America’s ever-lowing standards and principles. So while it’s a tiny crumb on the food for thought scale, the producers’ choice to replace Sheen with Kutcher just might symbolize a larger picture of what’s happening in our culture every day: the acceptance of default.