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Television & Radio | THE FALL TV SEASON

Laughs times two and a half

September 22, 2003|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"Two and a Half Men," the only new sitcom CBS has seen fit to field this fall, reunites "Hot Shots" co-stars Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen in an extremely old-fashioned comedy, a kind of mix of "The Odd Couple" and such ring-a-ding-ding late-show faves as "Come Blow Your Horn" and "A Hole in the Head." Which is to say, it involves a swinging bachelor, a fussy housemate, and a kid.

Whatever these characters will learn in the episodes granted to them, the already evident lesson is that a moldy premise need not stand in the way of a good time. The least important thing about almost any situation comedy, is, after all, the situation, which is at bottom just a pretext to get the actors -- the most important thing -- into the same room, where they may bother one another. And it doesn't hurt to have James Burrows, of "Taxi" and "Cheers" and so on, directing your pilot, either.

Sheen, in the role of what used to be called a "playboy," lives in a swinging bachelor pad by the sea, paid for by a swinging-bachelor-type job -- he writes jingles -- that leaves him lots of time to "sleep with beautiful women who don't ask about my feelings." Though he has never again been quite so perfect as he briefly was in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- his appointment as Michael J. Fox's "Spin City" replacement remains baffling, Golden Globe notwithstanding -- this role fits him well. It suits his strange attitude of seeming wired and stunned, board-stiff and devil-may-care all at the same time.

And as his buttoned-up and just-separated brother, about to move in along with his 10-year-old son, Jon Cryer is good enough for the both of them. If Sheen has remained surprisingly busy, Cryer has never had quite the success he deserved, bouncing from one failed sitcom to the next, like Scott Bakula in "Quantum Leap." But he's always been good, and he's good here again -- a trembling mass of repressed energy, his arms and hands suddenly exploding in front of him like a flock of scared birds. Sheen gets most of the "funny lines," which are funny more often than not, but Cryer makes hay from behavior, and from the subtle spin he puts on lines like "I like my sheets" or "We'll make a list."

It is always nice to see sitcom stalwart Holland Taylor, on hand as their orderly, overbearing mother. Angus T. Jones is the little kid, and the less like a little kid he's required to act -- as when playing poker with Sheen's buddies -- the better he is. Marin Hinkle as Cryer's wife and Melanie Lynskey as Sheen's stalker are unimpeachable.

*

'Two and a Half Men'

Where: CBS

When: Mondays at 9:30-10 p.m.; premieres tonight

Rating: The network has rated the show TV-PGDL (may not be suitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

Charlie Sheen...Charlie Harper

Jon Cryer...Alan Harper

Angus T. Jones...Jake Harper

Holland Taylor...Evelyn Harper

Marin Hinkle...Judith Harper

Melanie Lynskey...Rose

Creators, Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn. Executive producers, Lorre, Aronsohn, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Mark Burg and Oren Koules. Writers, Lorre and Aronsohn. Director, James Burrows.

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