Edgy writ­ing eclipses an­noy­ing laugh track

Char­lie and Alan are the best brother act since Frasier

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Two and a Half Men 8.30pm, Nine Stephen Romei

THIS suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can sit­com is not im­mune to the dis­eases of the genre: the char­ac­ters are cliched, the jokes are over­stretched and there’s an ir­ri­tat­ing laugh track. Yet Two and a Half Men has two things that lift it above the pack: a cer­tain ruth­less­ness in the writ­ing and Car­los Ir­win Estevez, bet­ter known as Char­lie Sheen. As a re­sult, it’s fun­nier and more in­ter­est­ing than, say, Ev­ery­body Loves Ray­mond, the show it re­placed in the cov­eted 9pm Mon­day times­lot on US net­work CBS.

Sheen is Char­lie Harper, a self­cen­tred, hard- drink­ing, well- off, 40- some­thing writer of ad­ver­tis­ing jin­gles who lives in beach­front com­fort in Mal­ibu and chases women. Lots of women. Now, some may say this role is a walk in the park for Sheen, but they would be wrong. He’s re­port­edly slept with 5000 women, mar­ry­ing a few and shoot­ing at least one. He has been in jail a few times. He has done se­ri­ous drugs. He’s a Septem­ber 11 con­spir­acy the­o­rist. He’s ton­ing him­self way down to play Char­lie Harper.

This artis­tic self- con­trol man­i­fests in a so­porific act­ing style that suits the char­ac­ter well. Noth­ing fazes Char­lie. In con­trast, ev­ery­thing fazes Alan ( Jon Cryer), his in­se­cure, neu­rotic, less hand­some younger brother. Af­ter his mar­riage breaks up, Alan moves in with Char­lie. The half- man is Alan’s chubby ado­les­cent son Jake ( An­gus T. Jones), but the ti­tle also is an ironic ges­ture to­wards Alan’s nerdi­ness. Char­lie and Alan are the best brother act since Frasier, though fall­ing well short of that gold stan­dard.

Tonight’s episode is the sea­son five fi­nale. CBS was due to roll out sea­son six ear­lier this week, so it’s to be hoped it will head here soon. The action opens with a sparkling scene be­tween Char­lie and his psy­chi­a­trist. When the ses­sion ends af­ter five min­utes and she charges for the full hour, Char­lie protests that ‘‘ even hook­ers pro- rate’’. ‘‘ Hook­ers don’t have to lis­ten to you, Char­lie,’’ she flashes back. It would be bril­liant if only they’d turn off the laugh track.

Char­lie’s prob­lem is that he thinks he’s in love with Angie ( Su­san Blakely), an older woman he’s dat­ing but, un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally, has not slept with. His shrink thinks he has mother is­sues ( and he does). Alan, too, thinks he’s in love with Angie. In a typ­i­cal sit­com com­pli­ca­tion, Angie’s son’s hot fi­ancee is one of Char­lie’s old girl­friends. It gets a bit silly but the writ­ing re­deems it. When Alan tells Angie he has a lit­tle boy, Char­lie af­fects mock sur­prise: ‘‘ You’ve got a lit­tle boy? Aren’t you afraid Jake will eat him?’’ In a na­tion fas­ci­nated and re­pelled by child­hood obe­sity, that’s quite an edgy lit­tle joke.

Above the pack: Jon Cryer and Char­lie Sheen in Two and a Half Men

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