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Ashton Kutcher Joins 'Two and a Half Men,' But Do Replacements Ever Work?

by Maureen Ryan, posted May 13th 2011 10:30AM
It's not surprising that 'Two and a Half Men' is set to get a replacement man -- as you've no doubt heard, Ashton Kutcher will join the show next season.

It will be surprising, however, if the substitution actually works.

It's not just that Kutcher has a very different presence and style than Charlie Sheen. I'm certainly not defending Sheen, whose departure from 'Men' was necessary and appropriate, but you can't argue with the fact that his wayward character had a dark cynicism that grounded 'Men's' lightweight comedy in a very specific way.

Sheen could be both a straight man and the comic centerpiece, while Kutcher seemed most comfortable as a goofball supporting character during his tenure on 'That '70s Show' (don't ask me about the roles Kutcher has played in his film career -- you couldn't get me to watch his movies for love or money).

Could Kutcher work on 'Men'? I suppose it's possible, but the show will have to retool extensively to integrate his very different style and personality, and I'm guessing the fans of the show don't want the show to change.

And let's face it, history tells us that when key actors are replaced on a TV series with limited core casts, shows usually never get better. In fact, they often get worse.

Nobody's disputing that 'Bewitched' was pretty much the same show no matter which actor was playing Darrin, and this list of sitcom departures and substitutions confirms that when subsidiary characters are replaced, it's often not that big a deal. But some high-profile programs who've lost integral, if not defining, personalities haven't fared that well. A few examples:

'American Idol': The show lost some unpredictability when Paula Abdul left, but it lost its spine when Simon Cowell left. The current crop of judges overpraise every mediocre performance so much that it feels like we're backstage at a grade-school music recital ("I love you!" "You're amazing!" "You can do anything!").

'The X-Files': Fox should have killed off 'The X-Files' when David Duchovny left, but noooo, the network just couldn't resist milking that sci-fi cash cow for a few more years -- and thus providing the ultimate example of a television show that destroyed its own excellent reputation and limped into retirement as a shadow of its former self.

'CSI': Does anyone out there think that the show got better after William Petersen left? It took the crime drama a long time to find the right tone and arc for Laurence Fishburne's character, who doesn't have the same quietly commanding vibe that Gil Grissom did.

How integral Grissom was to that drama's ensemble became even more apparent after Peterson left the show, but high-profile departures like that are usually more unsettling for shows with smaller casts. If a show has a small group of central characters, losing one member of the cast can throw the program off balance for the remainder of its life.

'M*A*S*H,' 'Law & Order' and 'ER' lost quite a few cast members over the years but did all right after those departures, mainly because those shows are ensemble-based, not centered on two or three people. Adding newcomers to those programs wasn't that big a deal, for the same reason that 'NYPD Blue' was able to absorb the loss of David Caruso well: There were other characters that the show could focus on, which meant it never really lost its way.

But 'The X-Files' was about Mulder and Scully, really, just as 'Two and a Half Men' is about the three men at the core of the show (Angus T. Jones hasn't been "half a man" for a few years now). Losing one of those cast members and throwing in an actor with a completely different vibe sounds like a recipe for failure. But maybe all the fans of the CBS comedy really want are the sexual innuendos and double entendres. Who knows, as long as those shopworn, bawdy jokes keep flowing, the show might do all right.

My guess is, continuing 'Men' for even one more season is going to be so lucrative for CBS and Warner Bros. TV, the studio that makes the show, that the quality (or lack thereof) won't be an issue. Maybe we'll only get one Ashton season, which will function as an asterisk in 'Men's' history, but the bean counters will be pleased, which may well be the point of the switcheroo.

Do you disagree? Do you think the Ashton-Charlie replacement will work? Or do you think 'Men' should have just been canceled, as I argued months ago? Sound off in comments.

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sorry ashton, i like you but not for charlie..there really is only one charlie, and CBS should know better, they have the ratings, Monday night rules with two and half men, why lose what you have and for the unknown. BRING CHARLIE BACK

May 24 2011 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't believe I'm making a comment about this...but there's a first time for everything. I have found the show funny at times but mostly just juvenile and raunchy. I've never found Charlie Sheen to be a very good actor...he just plays himself all the time and I didn't like him, even before I found out what a pig he is. So, for those of you who think he's so great - could you seriously watch the show and not just remember his insane, self-centered rants? The man is sick...and I actually mean that in a compassionate way. He's mentally ill and dangerous, at least to the women in his life. Ashton Kutcher? Depends on the character developed for him I guess. But, if I was going to watch the show I'd rather watch him than a nasty, bad actor with a God complex.

May 18 2011 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lorre will have to create a new character for Kutcher; there's only one Charlie! Lorre should have apologizes.
We need the laughs...

May 17 2011 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My Jerry O'connell comment is in regards to Ashton taking over on Two and a Half men.

May 16 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think Jerry O'connell would be the perfect fit. He played the same type of character on Carpoolers as Laird. A dentist who is a major playboy.........check out Carpoolers and see for yourself.

May 16 2011 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to disagree with you regarding American Idol. I find the show better without Cowell. The emphasis on degrading and humiliating contestants has been replaced with a more realistic approach. If you like the cowell approach he has a show comming this fall or you might want to watch Judge Judy.
With regard to two and a half men I think they may be able to swing it for a season or two. The only problem is Kutcher is stiff, lacking the basic acting skills. Reminds me of Jeff Goldblum. Too bad Hugh Grant declined, I think he could have pulled it off.

May 16 2011 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Suck it up and bring Charlie back, you are going to say a little salary for one of the worst(and not funny) actors out there. To Ashton's credit, nobdody can replace Charlie, so bring him back and stop the crap. Get rid of Chuck the ass. Charlie has made him beyond rich, show some loyalty. What he does in his private life is upto him, I don't agree with it, but he makes the show. Use your heads. Execs that no ****, what a surprise in Hollywood,
From a Charlie supporter, but more importantly from a die hard lover of that show. Mondays won't be the same.

May 16 2011 at 10:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sandor Toth

Ashton should have had his self judgement and decline the invitation.

May 16 2011 at 9:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Charlie,s personny ( real life ) is stellar for this part. What a waste to burn out.
Kushy is a child and too much of a ***** and will not pull off the funny.

May 16 2011 at 8:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

He may fill his place but needs a haircut first and if he ever wears an earing, he is finished since people nowadays do nbot want to see gay actors.

May 16 2011 at 7:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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