Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Better Half Of Two And A Half Men 3/29/10

It’s been hard for me to reconcile what appear to be Charlie Sheen’s auditions for The Shining II in real life, with the truly extraordinary actor.

I watched him in Wall Street again the other day, and it is a performance of incredible range and talent for such a young man.

Every night, I watch double episodes of the sitcom Two and A Half Men, whether I am in the UK or the US; I can pretty much recite them all by heart now, but Sheen still makes me laugh out loud every time, just as the brilliant Jon Cryer (who won an Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series this year – so, so deserved) makes me both laugh and cry, as his character lurks often pitifully in his seemingly more successful brother’s shadow.

The character Charlie (played by Sheen) is the drinking, fun-loving, sex-craved one; Alan (Cryer – his character often lives up to the actor’s surname), the divorced one, has been living in Charlie's Malibu beachside home since his marriage broke up, and appears to have very little going for him.

He has virtuallly no luck with women, gets a hangover if he so much as breathes the same air as a Budweiser, and has the greater moral conscience.

But he is much nicer to his mother than Charlie is, and tries to keep his own food-obsessed son Jake on the straight and narrow, as the boy is passed from mother to father and back again, with several pizzas and buckets of fries acting as the middle men.

But why, in many US comedy shows, are there so many women have absolutely no, or certainly very well hidden, redeeming qualities? Lilith (Cheers, Frasier); Ros and the unseen Maris (Frasier); housekeeper Berta (Conchata Perrell), Alan’s ex-wife Judith (Marin Hinkle), and the brothers’ mother Evelyn (Holland Taylor) in Two and a Half Men?

True, many of Charlie’s women have some nice qualities, but these fly-by-nights are generally out of the door quicker than Charlie can say . . . Well: “Don’t slam the door on your way out.” Fiancée Chelsea was a very rare exception; it is the three monstrous women who dominate the female part of the show.

In the UK, it is generally the females of sitcoms who set the moral barometer; they are the ones to whom the other generally hopeless characters (usually men) turn to, in order to find clues as to how they could, or should, be running their lives.

In the US, you wouldn’t look to any of the above-named women for directions to the bathroom, let alone your life path; you know they would only point you to the cellar, lock you in and throw away the key.

So who sets the moral barometer in Two and A Half Men?

It’s Alan’s son, Jake, played by Angus T. Jones, who was just a month off his 10th birthday when CBS first aired the show in September 2003 – and it is this character who ultimately defines the show as the most moral comedy on television.

That’s right: Two and A Half Men is the most moral comedy show on US television. And that is the real key to its enormous success as a family comedy.

It has the most promiscuous sex, the most heartless and cruel women, the rudest (though most daring and riotous) jokes, and yet, at its heart, a very moral tale: two grown men, seemingly at odds, little realising that what binds them is not only their relation to each other by blood, but the thing for which they are both searching, albeit in very different ways. Namely: how do you find the right person to love?

It's a primal journey, common to most people, of both sexes, the world over. It's just that Charlie gets his end away more often en route - as it were.

But Jake is the touchstone to which they both keep returning. Jake's curious questioning of life and sexuality is governed by Charlie; the importance of having a conscience is monitored by Alan.

But in both men essentially (and in Charlie's case, unconsciously) competing for control of the youngster, the men constantly have to reassesss their behaviour and lifetyle while in his presence: the young spectre at the grown-ups' feast.

In reality, Jake is saner than both his father and uncle (and certainly saner than his mother). He is the calm voice of reason, questioning both men’s behaviour, as he grows up surrounded by people who don’t know how to love because they were not, quite simply, loved by their mother.

Jake is loved by everyone, which automatically gives him the moral high ground. His security in being wanted by mother, father and, jokingly reluctantly, by Uncle Charlie, enables him to look with bemusement and wonder at the people denied what has always been given to him freely and unconditionally.

He’s a young child of divorced parents (which helps); he has crushes – on girls and older women; he loves telly; and we’ve seen him grow from pre-pubescent into handsome, funny and smart young man – without his incurring, or our ever having had to see, all the problems that this transformation usually entails in real life.

Oh, yes; and he’s always been very cute – and Jones is a damned fine young actor, as both the pre- and post-pubescent Jake glaringly reveal.

After Sheen’s recent spell in rehab, recordings for the new series were put on hold, but filming resumed two weeks ago.

I really can’t wait for it to come around again. My guess would be that it will now be Jake who starts competing with his Uncle Charlie for the same girls, which will bring Charlie’s insecurities to the fore.

That’s Charlie the character, not Charlie from The Shining II, by the way.

I’m not suggesting you swop your Bible for DVDs just yet, but there are a lot of moral lessons to be learned in Two and A Half Men, where love really does conquer all.

Even if it is often Jake’s love for whatever he’s thinking about putting in his belly next.

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