“Two and a Half Men” returns Thursday, Oct. 30, for its 12th and final season on CBS and, though the Chuck Lorre-produced show is coming to an end, its 12-season run has been an impressive and nearly unmatched display of longevity for a modern sitcom (“Friends” lasted only 10 seasons, “Seinfeld” only 9). More impressive still, Season 12 will be the show’s fourth season after replacing its main star, Charlie Sheen, with Ashton Kutcher after a dispute led to Sheen’s early exit from the series. Kutcher’s arrival saw an increase in ratings and praise for the show, but despite the actor’s best efforts, it seems the show has finally run its course.
“Two and a Half Men” premiered in 2003 starring Charlie Sheen as Charlie Harper, a bachelor and player who allows his recently divorced brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and Alan’s young son Jake (Angus T. Jones) to move in with him in his Malibu beach house. The chemistry between Sheen and Cryer as Sheen’s character’s self-indulgent lifestyle clashed with Cryer’s character’s conservative, shy nature turned the show into one of the most popular comedies on television.
But things came crashing down for the show when Sheen’s substance abuse problems caused production of Season 8 to shut down. In March 2011, after Sheen made multiple disparaging comments about Lorre and CBS in various interviews, the network terminated Sheen’s contract and effectively fired the star of its most popular show.
Enter Ashton Kutcher, whom the network hired to replace Sheen for Season 9. Kutcher joined the series playing Walden Schmidt, a wealthy but lonely Internet entrepreneur who buys Charlie Harper’s house after the character was killed off-screen before the Season 9 premiere. Schmidt allowed Alan and Jake to continue living in the house.
Kutcher breathed new life into the show, making the Season 9 premiere the highest-rated episode in the series' history and boosting the average viewers per episode to 14.64 million, up from 12.73 million for Season 8. The show also won renewed praise from critics, who applauded Kutcher’s performance and rewarded Cryer with an Emmy in 2012.
However, Kutcher’s presence, coming at a point when most (even popular) series are ended or ending, could not permanently stave off the show’s inevitable decline. The show’s ratings were down the next season and hit rock-bottom in last year’s Season 11, averaging only 10.66 million viewers.
It seems like the nail in the coffin for “Two and a Half Men” was, indeed, one of its stars leaving -- not Charlie Sheen but Angus T. Jones. Jones, who had played Alan’s son Jake in the first 10 seasons, left the show before season 11 after criticizing the content of the show in a YouTube video.
Jones was replaced in Season 11 by Amber Tamblyn, who played a previously unknown lesbian daughter of Charlie Harper, named Jenny, who comes to live with Alan. Critics praised Tamblyn’s performance as well as the inclusion of a lesbian character, but it may have been just too much “new” for the show’s audience.
“Two and a Half Men” will return Oct. 30 a very different show than the one that premiered in 2003. And, yes, ratings are down, but a good many shows on television would be thrilled with the over 10 million weekly viewers the show is still pulling. While it may be time for it to end, “Two and a Half Men” will go out as nothing short of one of the most successful sitcoms in history, even if only one of the original "men" is left to see it through.
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