Wither Two and a Half Men?

Okay, this will require some explaining.

Two and a Half Men was until recently the most popular comedy on American television, which is amazing because it’s truly, truly awful. It’s so terrible that it’s never even appeared on British television before 2009, and even then it was only on cable. Considering Heroes was shown on BBC2 to the very end, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Originally, the show was about a divorcée (Jon Cryer) who with his son moves in with his creepy commercial-jingle-writing date-rapist brother Charlie Sheen. I should add this is a show for families. For the longest time, the show was based around unimaginably convoluted dirty jokes, not double-entendres but single ones. Now that Charlie Sheen is gone, Ashton Kutcher is there and he’s just…there. The show has managed to suck dozens of otherwise talented people into it’s orbit; I’m sad to say it’s the most recent thing I know Martin Mull to have performed in.

I should say that Two and a Half Men is not the worst show on television; amazingly there are hackier shows like Whitney but those tend not to last very long. This show has been on for nine years. It’s also not terribly broad humour, from what I’ve seen of it there’s astonishingly little visual element to the jokes, or there weren’t. Presently there are no jokes, just people fighting with a laugh track put in. The awfulness is not inspired, it isn’t something you could enjoy ironically because there’s nothing there. That something like that is so popular defies understanding until you realize it’s on CBS, and thus most of the people “watching” are in fact elderly people who have fallen asleep. It is one of the least-watched shows online.

I say all this because for a show to be so highly rated and yet completely reviled is unprecedented, so there’s no telling what legacy Two and a Half Men will have. My cousin recently posted that as a “nineties kid” her generation was the generation of Family Matters, as if that was a good thing. Of course Family Matters was a kids’ show that was cleverly not marketed as one, and we know kids will watch anything. Furthermore, Family Matters was essentially of its time, whereas Two and a Half Men is embarrassingly disconnected from its own (it looks like a failed one-off from 1998).

So what does Two and a Half Men have to offer the bored college students of 2020? It has no concept, no jokes, the creators are accordingly cynical and breathtakingly misogynistic, it doesn’t reflect the era in which it was made outside of a general skankiness, and there’s nothing unintentionally funny about it. It holds no social currency, it doesn’t really have “fans” in the way far lower rated shows do. There’s nothing to see there. In all likelihood it will be completely forgotten, like most of these. But I secretly hope it will serve as a cautionary tale:

Kids, don’t let your parents fall asleep with the TV on.

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