Edgy writing eclipses annoying laugh track
Charlie and Alan are the best brother act since Frasier
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