Uncle Woofie looks at the characters from the show Two and a Half Men and why, true to all situation comedies, they never change.
All situation comedy characters have to be ridiculously flawed. Otherwise, all you have is a “Straight Man”. In the seventies, there was a cop-comedy called “Barney Miller”. Joseph Wambaugh (remember him?) a successful crime novelist who spent years as a L.A. policeman, then a homicide detective, described it as the most accurate “cop show” on television. Hal Linden, who played the show’s title character (the precinct Captain), got tired of being not much more than a walk-on ‘straight man/problem solver’ versus all the colorful characters whether they be “guest perps” or the cops. Linden justifiably bitched to the show’s senior staff about this fact.
A comedy with people doing the right thing without fail, who are noble, intelligent, and sympathetic at all times, is what we all aspire to in our lives. In a comedy series, it’s duller than dammit. Add to that the idea that it is wise to check one’s real-life concerns and beliefs at the door if you’re going to have some laughs. This does not make anyone who does so a bad person. Also, situation comedies depend on characters that never change … ever.
As for Two and a Half Men, the Charlie Harper character has been analyzed to death. So this is less about Charlie and more about the women that circled him. I have not one ounce of sympathy for any of Mr. Harper’s ‘conquests’. Most of us have met young women much like the fictional females involved in Mr. Harper’s Malibu Beach House Bimbo Parade (sounds like a Barbie parody, don’t it?). How could attractive women living in an area of the country so notorious for “players” be so exhaustingly naïve? All of them obviously just expected that Charlie Harper was going to foreswear an envious, addictive single-male lifestyle after simply having an epiphany-like one night stand with them.
These women were lying to themselves as much as Charlie Harper was lying to them.
The people in Charlie’s orbit who are actually victimized by his ways were Alan and Jake. In an early episode, Charlie managed to get Alan completely sunk in the divorce settlement by wooing and dumping Alan’s hot divorce attorney, which resulted in Alan being taken to the cleaners (it’s at least implied). With that level of culpability on Charlie’s part, he deserves every moment of ‘misery’ he got from Alan living with him. Jake was victimized by Charlie’s heat-seeking, moisture-guided meat missile when Charlie took up with one of Jake’s teachers, then dumped her as well.
The Alan Harper character needs a more thorough assessment. Look at Alan Harper’s background just prior to him landing at Charlie’s doorstep. The show’s reliance on the history of its characters is made clear with references to Alan’s victimization by both his mother as well as his brother. No mention is made of a history of compulsive mooching until Alan’s ambush-style divorce.
Then there’s Alan’s disastrous post-divorce love life. ‘Kandi’, who propelled herself through life on her looks and sexual prowess alone (sound familiar?) preying on sexually-starved, insecure men, wound up taking him to the cleaners after he hit a Vegas jackpot. Alan, sexually deprived for most of his marriage, got seduced, then used and abandoned by her. She was the most irritating character in the entire series, as well as the most predatory. If all the men in this show are ‘assholes’ Kandi was a predatory leech in ditzy hot-blonde sheep’s clothing. In other words, she’s a dumbed-down version of Alan’s mother in many respects.
The best female character of this series is Lindsey Makelroy, the intensely attractive blonde suburban housewife from Alan’s old neighborhood when he was married. Lindsey has a delightfully checkered past that ranged from starring in a soft-core porn cable TV movie called “Cinnamon’s Buns” when she was desperate, young and single, to booking sports bets out of a ‘candle store’ later in her life. She’s been around the block a few times, married a stereotypical handsome, successful man only to get betrayed by his stupid philandering.
The ‘Lindsey’ character is a sexy, warm, straight-up survivor, learning from her mistakes and not allowing herself to repeat them, which I can’t help but admire.
Lindsey also has that quality many married women actually have. She knows sex with her Significant Other not only has pleasurable benefits for her, but is part of the maintenance a good heterosexual relationship requires. She seems attracted to Alan out of interest in finding someone with a better heart that’s loyal and more deserving of her charms, unlike her ex-husband. The most recent episode I’ve seen (Walden’s bushy hipster look going away), she’s back in Alan’s life; while the reason is not exactly what Alan might want to hear, but it’s great to see that Alan’s chief weapon in winning her back is his positive acceptance of who she actually is. I still think the writers may not be able to resist cutting Alan loose from this relationship, in favor of more hilarity in watching Alan flounder in the middle-aged single world. I hope I’m wrong.
The comedic ‘treat’ in Lindsey’s return involves how ‘high-maintenance’ a 25-year old, handsome rich guy can be for a woman Lindsey’s age, amplified for comedic effect. See Lisa Hickey’s article, Chasing Beauty, for more background on the ‘maintenance fees’.
Then, there’s the “half”, Alan’s teen-aged son Jake. It’s no wonder that the Jake character is in the shape he’s in either. One of the purposes Jake has in 2.5 Men is to remind us all that we might not have the world’s next genius prodigy as an offspring, despite our hopes. Part of the M.O. of these shrewish, ball-buster wives is to undermine their husbands’ parental authority in favor of their own, and then bitterly complain that their husbands aren’t carrying their share of the parental load. Jake has suffered in subtle ways because of this. Despite the popularity of the “Why Women Aren’t Crazy” article, psychological ‘gaslighting’ is not the exclusive vice of men.
Also, despite his flaws, Jake isn’t like 95% of offspring in TV-Land … a know-it-all smart ass.
The ex-wife Judith should get on her knees and be thankful she’s wrapped in a relatively attractive package. Otherwise, there would be no camouflaging the toxic creature curled up in her skull. Alan’s ex-wife is now chasing and flirting with Kutcher’s character Walden at every opportunity. This is dry hump-style cheating on her current husband, the hapless pediatrician, Dr. Herb Melnick.
Herb Melnick is a pleasant, decent guy (albeit naïve) whose sole purpose seems to be to prove that whatever justification she had in dumping Alan, Judith will attempt to destroy any man she traps in a relationship. I disagree with the assessment of the character as a “sex-starved slave”. Gee, a married man who actually expects to get laid once in a while, and finds ways to make it happen even with a totally disagreeable wife, how scurrilous! The only solution the Melnick character has in dealing with Judith is to file for trial separation. Herb is managing the best he can.
Kutcher’s character, the Internet magnate Walden, who bought Charlie’s mortgaged-to-the-hilt beach house, to be sure, starts out a man-child. Post-divorce though, he’s making up for lost time and emotional immaturity really fast. He is re-discovering life and exploring an adulthood that he’s never really had. His ex found that out when she and Walden’s own mother tried to wrest the company from him. Walden’s sultry lawyer girlfriend and Alan help him thwart their scheme.
I sincerely hope that they close out this series decently out of respect for the audience that made the show such a success for so long. This means NO slap-dashed, out of nowhere “series finale” that episodic television has such a bad habit of throwing at its audience. Give these characters (particularly the male ones) a chance to grow up and change, in a process that amounts to at least a half-season story arc. Once that process is complete, the “magic spell” will be broken, which is the real reason behind the Never-Never Land aspect of situation comedy characters that never change or grow. Here’s my suggestion to make that happen successfully:
Jake, on a dare, discovers a passion for writing code when he creates an algorithm that will crack any porno site on the planet, which Walden in turn uses to save his on-line empire from destruction by an apocalyptic computer virus. Walden gets Jake accepted to a prestigious university by shamelessly blackmailing the institution into accepting Jake, by way of a huge endowment. Kutcher’s character continues to grow and mature, deciding to take a year-long sabbatical around the world, sans laptop, alone. Thanks to how Alan proved himself by evolving into a capable executive after the matriarchal take-over attempt, Walden hands over the keys to the Malibu house to Alan, as well as stewardship of Walden’s internet empire.
Alan asks Berta to continue as the housekeeper with the understanding that if she ever calls him “Zippy” again, she’s fired. Now that he’s flush, Alan then turns around and gets her a car. (Hey, it’s Alan.)
Alan, even though his new status has changed his dating life, discovers he misses Lindsey terribly. He rectifies this by inviting her over for a candlelit dinner. The evening’s surprise entertainment is Lindsey’s “Cinnamon’s Buns” movie. Lindsey balks and attempts to leave. Alan stops her, confessing his insecure foolishness over a delightfully sexy part of her interesting past by telling her she’s ‘Cinnamon 2.0’ as far as he’s concerned. She happily re-introduces Alan to ‘Cinnamon’s Buns’, as well as her other ‘confectionary’ boudoir delights.
Dr. Melnick grows tired of Judith’s poisonous behavior and files for divorce and sole custody of their daughter (it does not turn out to be Alan’s). Judith finally gets a taste of what she’s dished out. She tries running to Alan; he tells Judith he’s not interested in her, citing what she’s put all the adult men in her life through.
I love happy endings.