Sunday, September 30, 2007

Two and a Half Men - The Complete First Season

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

First, let's tap the brakes a little on what makes a successful comedy. Two and a Half Men is currently celebrating the start of its Fifth Season and the start of what will be a very profitable syndication run. But let's not confuse this with Seinfeld or M*A*S*H. Two and a Half Men is not a failure, it can rightly say that it's been the top-rated comedy the past couple years. Arrested Development could never come close to the numbers that this show draws. A typical summer repeat of the show draws almost 11 million viewers, making it a Top-Ten show in repeats! What draws everyone?

This isn't the type of show that needs to be deconstructed or have the subtleties pointed out. Like many succesful sit-coms, the premise is easily summed up. In most cases (Three's Company or Gilligan's Island for example) the premise can be summarized in the theme song or opening credits. The outline for this show is so simple they don't even bother because it's summed up in the title. Heavy-drinking, sexually active, jingle-writing musician, Charlie (Charlie Sheen) lives in his beach house in Malibu. His exactly opposite brother, Alan (Jon Cryer) is thrown out by his wife and comes to live with Charlie, bringing his 10-year-old son, Jake (Angus T. Jones) with him.

In the first few minutes of the "Pilot", we're already reminded of a slew of other sit-coms. The Odd Couple with an additional kid comes to mind first. Second, I couldn't help but notice that the apartment appears to be a slightly updated version of Laverne & Shirley's apartment from when they moved to California. And the laugh track. The laugh track is overwhelming. I guess the traditional sit-com has become the non-traditional with shows like Scrubs, The Office and 30 Rock gaining popularity. The laugh track here is painful and really takes away from most of the funny sarcasm.

The cast is filled out with Rose (Melanie Lynskey - Heavenly Creatures) as Charlie's stalker neighbor. Her role is like that of other wacky neighbors including Lenny & Squiggy and Kramer that make comedically timed entrances. Judith (Marin Hinkle) is Alan's ex-wife that may or may not be a lesbian, leading to the potential of gay humor every time she's in a scene (Will & Grace). Evelyn Harper (Holland Taylor) is the boy's mother and Jake's grandmother. These are the show's ingredients: ultra male, feminine male, cute-but-troublemaker boy, stalker/funny neighbor, gay/not gay ex-wife, and domineering mother. These ingredients can be mixed and matched into clever combinations.

The concept is simple and yet the amount of plots that can be developed from these basics is impressive. Take the "If I Can't Write" episode. It plays up the relationship of Charlie and Alan as a "couple" with Alan's feminine attention to house cleaning to comedic ends. When it's left up to Charlie to "clean up" Jake, the tables are turned and he learns to appreciate the hard work that Alan does. I believe I saw that episode of The Brady Bunch also. In "The Last Thing You Want" Charlie learns "responsibility" by going to Jake's soccer game. Both Alan and Charlie end up on "dates" with their opposites: Charlie gets the "good" girl and Alan gets the MILFs. With the roles reversed, both learn to see the world from the other's point of view. But like the rules of a sitcom, everything is returned to the way it started by the end of the episode.

I actually found it fun to follow the different combinations of characters. But this is the First Season; I'm not sure how you keep that going without inserting more characters in future seasons. The pedigree is impressive. You've got actors who've been in successful films, not TV retreads. And yet, it's rarely funny or satisfying. Starting with the second episode, the episode titles were quotes from that episode. Like an appearance of Hitchcock in one of his films, I was often distracted (maybe even entertained) waiting to hear the quote instead of following the plot.

The best parts of the First Season are when the two lead actors step out of their "world". In "Go East On Sunset" there's a clever "Taxicab Confessions" nod and in "Twenty-Five Little Pre-Pubers" there's a great skit with Jake's class combining Charlie's jingles with Jake's class play on the Industrial Revolution.

This isn't one of those discs with an overwhelming amount of extras like Lost, Heroes or The Office. There's a solid "Featurette" on the show and a Gag Reel with Outtakes.

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