In some circles, the CBS sitcom "Two And A Half Men" is considered the poster child for all that is wrong with television. Thirty minutes of hacky setup-punchline shtick, starring two never-were has-beens of the 1980s who mug their way through rehashed formulaic claptrap that could only appeal to the lowest of low common denominators. It's not a hip sensation like "Gossip Girl" or "Project Runway," it's not lauded as highly as critical darlings like "30 Rock" or "The Office," nor does it dominate the national conversation like the ur-myth of our days, "The Hills." Unlike those shows, however, people actually watch "Two And A Half Men." And so should you, at least once, if only to know how the rest of America entertains itself while you're raging against the machine. Of course, if you're reading this you probably know next to nothing about the show, which is why we present "The Beginner's Guide to 'Two And A Half Men'" below.
The premise: Charlie Sheen plays Charlie (of course), a consummate swinging bachelor, who for reasons that are not clear nor important, is independently wealthy and lives by himself in a giant Malibu beach pad. His little brother Alan (played by "Pretty In Pink"'s Jon Cryer) and Alan's son Jake (played by the world-weary Angus T. Jones) suddenly find themselves homeless after Alan's wife cleaned him out in their divorce. So the two adult brothers—who could not be more different!—are forced to live together once again, while raising the young boy (roughly age 10 when the series started 5 years ago).
Side characters: The boys are frequently visited by a staple of female characters that like to intrude on and wreak havoc with their lives. Charlie's sassy, overweight housekeeper, Berta; next door neighbor Rose, a pretty neurotic whose obsession with Charlie borders on stalking; Judith, Alan's ex-wife and Jake's mother, who Alan still harbors feelings for despite her ability to make him miserable; and Charlie and Alan's oversexed, absentee mother Evelyn, played by TV workhorse Holland Taylor.
Recurring Themes: Charlie is the 21st century Sam Malone, a smooth-talking lothario who beds a steady stream of increasingly improbable babes, while successfully avoiding commitment at all costs. His brother Alan, is the polar opposite—a neurotic single father whose bad luck with women knows no bounds. The kid, believe it or not, is wise beyond his years and a bit of a smart aleck. The three of them butt heads, trade barbs, and constantly tease each other about their various foibles. Charlie's antics often land him into trouble, which his more responsible younger brother often rescues him from; even as the carefree Charlie tries to teach the uptight Alan how to loosen up. It also has an adorable theme song and is produced by Chuck Lorre, the guy who created "Dharma and Greg" and puts those freeze frame vanity cards at the end of all his shows.
That probably sounds very familiar ... and it is. Which is precisely why people like it. The show has been nominated for 23 Emmys, including two for Best Comedy Series and three each for Charlie Sheen (Best Actor), Jon Cryer (Best Supporting Actor), and Holland Taylor (Best Supporting Actress). More tellingly, it has won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Series twice. It has ratings of 8.7 on IMDb and 9.1 on TV.com. It has consistently been the highest rated comedy on television and finished in the Top 20 of the Nielsen ratings (for all shows) every year it's been on the air. People love this damn show.
And you know what? It's not that bad. Predictable, yes. Safe and obvious, yes. But the kid is pretty talented, the jokes hit their targets, and Charlie Sheen is just so damn likable. In real life, he is a notorious drug user, prostitute buyer, 9/11 conspiracy nut, and his divorce is currently the nastiest tabloid feud there is. But the guy also has a Hanes underwear ad with Michael Jordan. You know who doesn't have a Hanes underwear commercial? Chase Crawford, because your mom doesn't know who that is.