“Two and a Half Men” doesn’t skip a beat with Ashton Kutcher, without Charlie Sheen

By Tom Comi

You really have to hand it to Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre — the man really knows how to throw a funeral.

All eyes were on CBS, Lorre and Ashton Kutcher last night to see if and how Two and a Half Men could thrive without embattled star Charlie Sheen (whose character goes by the same first name). And from the opening scene when his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) was delivering the eulogy at Charlie’s funeral, we knew immediately that the show was not going to skip a beat.

Alan: “I want to thank all of you for coming. I know this is a sad day for all of us.”

Former Charlie fling: “Speak for yourself.”

Alan: “Ok, I understand some of you have mixed feelings. But I think we can all agree that Charlie lived life to its fullest and gave it everything he had.”

Former Charlie fling #2: “Gave me herpes.”

Former Charlie fling #3: “Chlamydia.”

Former Charlie fling #4: “Vaginal warts.”

You have to wonder if this was art imitating life or vice versa, but there was something telling about the fact that very few people were upset to see Charlie gone. Even his own mother (Holland Taylor) didn’t break down when it was revealed that he was pushed in front of a subway and that his “body just exploded like a balloon full of meat.”

Lorre’s biggest challenge was getting rid of one central character and introducing a new central character — all the while making it seamless and funny. And what better way to do so than to have Cryer bridge the gap by talking to his brother’s remains in an urn?

“Just like old times, huh? I’m talking and you’re in a bottle ignoring me,” he said. “I wanted to tell you that I loved you and that I will miss you. And I will always be grateful for you taking Jake and me in, letting us live here all these years.”

Fortunately, that’s where the sentimentality ended and the transition to the new Two and a Half Men began. Making one of the funniest entrances in recent sitcom memory, Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt peered through the window and startled Alan to the point where Charlie’s ashes were flung through the air.

Schmidt, who we learned is a billionaire due to selling his company to Microsoft, was dripping wet after he almost tried to drown himself in the ocean. Suicide attempts don’t often lend themselves to great storylines, but Lorre and his staff pulled it off perfectly.

When he tried to tell Alan that money doesn’t buy happiness, Alan replied, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never had either.” And when Walden took off all of his clothes to have them dried, Alan mumbled, “1.3 billion dollars and he’s hung like an elephant.”

The rest of the show was devoted to a lot of Kutcher walking around naked and setting the stage for his character to buy the Malibu beach house, which we feel safe in assuming will be shared by Alan and his son (Angus T. Jones).

Lorre hit the mark on all accounts in last night’s season premiere, including the brilliant cameos by Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson from his former creation Dharma & Greg. The challenge moving forward will be sustaining the brief chemistry we saw between Cryer and Kutcher and working Jones into the mix.

Given that he found a way to make a funeral, a suicide attempt and full nudity hilarious, I think it’s safe to say CBS has given new meaning to the term “winning.”

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Top photo: Danny Feld/CBS/Warner Bros. © 2011 Warner Bros. Television.

Bottom photo: Adam Rose/CBS. © 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc.