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Appointment Viewing: Ding Dong! Two and a Half Men is Dead

Appointment Viewing is a regular column which features a Spinoff writer watching one or more episodes of a current show and attempting to decode its appeal. This week: Duncan Greive watches the finale of Two and a Half Men.

What’s it about?

The most successful sitcom of this millennium was literally crushed under a grand piano last night, ending a dozen years of astoundingly offensive comedy which said almost nothing while revealing a lot about the world’s citizens as they are, rather than as we’d like them to be. The finale was 35 minutes long, itself an insultingly ‘who cares?’ length, far too long for a TV half hour, far too short for a TV hour. It was breathtakingly cynical, winking sleazily at its audience throughout, and functioned as the culmination of creator Chuck Lorre’s smug revenge narrative, one last chance to throw a few more punches into Charlie Sheen’s bloated midriff.

It opened with a flashback to Charlie Harper’s funeral scene from season nine, with beautiful women facing the pulpit, while Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) delivered the eulogy. “He gave us everything he had,” he said. “Herpes,” said one young woman. “Vaginal warts,” another. Classic gags. The cacophony closed out with a single line ringing in our ears: “where’s the body?”

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There was no body you eggs! Mel Lynskey has had him stashed down a well in her basement this whole time. He escapes, thanks to a rope made of bowling shirts and cargoes tied together. The whole episode exists as an elaborate, expensive and star-strewn opportunity for Lorre to glory in how much more money he made after Sheen got fired. The characters, never particularly deeply developed, are just dumb puppets by the close. “He’s irreplaceable,” says Alan of Charlie, then slides a big pantomime look at Kutcher’s software billionaire Walter Schmidt. Seconds later Kutcher blasts through the fourth wall for the first time this episode, turning directly to camera and saying “I can’t wait for this to be over.”

Since his escape, Sheen’s gone on a giving rampage, sprinkling cash on all these arbitrary people, while vowing revenge on Cryer and Kutcher (cbf with their character’s names at this point). Some kind of metaphor for the way Sheen’s departure meant his money ended up all kinds of different places, but not in his own pocket? Lorre isn’t a particularly oblique dude.

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The rest of the ep is Grown Ups 2-flimsy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a police chief, and recaps the entire series in about two minutes. Essentially as another ‘fuck you’ to the audience’. A part of it is a Pixar-esque cartoon, for no really good reason, except that it allows them to show Sheen running amok without paying him, and the cast to do voice acting as opposed to acting acting, which is marginally easier I guess.

There are a bunch of other cameos. John Stamos is in bed with Kutcher’s wife. Peep Show‘s Big Suze is being crowned Queen of some made up place. Christian Slater wears Sheen’s outfit and pretends to have been drugged by him. Most interestingly Angus T Jones, Cryer’s on-screen son returns. He famously left the show while loudly and fairly decrying its amorality, after converting to some kind of intense American Christianity. He was obviously lured back for the finale by a few pots of gold. Jones was thinner and beardier, and participated in a group turn to camera, from that idiot set, which really made me feel queasy.

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The idiot episode finally ends with cigars and whisky on the deck for Kutcher, Cryer and poor Conchata Ferrell, forced to make so many awful jokes about women and weight while trapped in this prison show. A grand piano falls on our heroes, before a pan out to show Lorre watching from a director’s chair. He turns to face the camera, replete with full reptilian LA tan/goatee combo, and says one lazily predictable word: “winning”. Then a baby grand crushes him too.

Who’s it for?

Everyone! It never averaged below 10m viewers for a season over 12 interminable years, and was the most popular sitcom right through. More New Zealanders watched it yesterday than The Bachelor NZ. Before last night I didn’t know quite how unpleasant it was. For years I watched Two and a Half Minutes of Two and Half Men, after Police 10 Seven every damn week, until the MySky recording ran out. Mainly to sing the dumb theme song with my family. I somehow enjoyed its cruel simplicity and anti-modern bastard heart in that minute dose. To endure 10 times that amount you have to really hate everyone who doesn’t look and act like you a lot.

What’s working?

More than I like to admit. If you’ve given up hope then every joke is pretty much perfectly bleak and laser-targeted. Lorre is so present in this show, ritually humiliating his cast and opponents to show the whole world how omnipotent he is. All the jokes are mean and obvious and exist to make its dominant audience laugh while making someone else cry. Despite myself, despite all of the above, I somehow enjoyed how utterly beyond hope and saving it all was. It felt like the product of end times more than almost any other recent pop cultural artifact. Who can’t derive some satanic pleasure from that?

What’s not?

Nothing and everything. The constant meta-humour is its only attractive quality, and is worn through within seconds of titles rolling. “This whole thing has been going on way too long,” says Arnie, smirking. “A lot of people have been saying that,” replies Cryer. Even if you’re only watching this one episode you feel complicit in something future generations will judge us very harshly for, an entirely joyless edifice standing in the corner, waving its diseased penis at the room, which cannot look away.

Should I get amongst it?

Against my better judgement, yes. If only to know for sure that, unlike Charlie ‘Harper’ Sheen, it is, in fact, dead.

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You can’t watch Two and a Half Men anymore – it’s finished! Here is the finale over at TVNZ

Don’t though. Watch Big Suze mess with Jez in human miracle Peep Show on Lightbox instead.