return to hell

I Once Watched Two and a Half Men for Two and a Half Days Straight. The Finale Was One of the Most Bizarre Things I’ve Ever Seen.

“Of Course He’s Dead – Part One and Part Two” Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS

Have you ever left hell and then gone back?

I have.

In 2011, I decided to binge-watch every single episode of Two and a Half Men. One hundred seventy-seven episodes. Seventy-five hours. In a row, without sleep. And I succeeded.

It was stupid and torturous and, as it turns out, one of the best times of my life. But I swore I’d never watch the show again. And yet, here I am, four years later, writing a recap of the series finale. If Charlie Harper were still alive, he’d say I was a huge slut.

I called the binge marathon Two and a Half Days of Two and a Half Men. The name wasn’t just catchy. At around 21 minutes per episode, or 62 hours, the show’s length in total (back then) actually equated to a running time of exactly two and a half days. Amazing, I know. So why subject myself to it? At the time, Two and a Half Men was the most popular sitcom on television, and I hadn’t seen a single episode. And the show wasn’t that well liked critically, but I wanted to see it for myself before making any judgments. Aside from that, I thought it would be fun.

It was. I ended up watching for 75 hours straight (full disclosure — I took a four-and-a-half-hour nap in the middle). I went pretty loopy, and the repetition made me gag, but I also had a bunch of great comedians hang out and watch with me — Paul Scheer, Adam Pally, Chelsea Peretti, Curtis Gwinn, John Gemberling, Ben Schwartz, Tim Heidecker, Jon Daly, Brett Gelman, and many more. I won’t get too into it (I chronicled the escapade in greater detail here), but my takeaway was: The show was bad, but not as terrible as people had made it out to be. Story lines were simple and dealt with sex in a childish and misogynistic way; the acting was ham-fisted; it was monotonous, yes, but I saw how the show could be comforting — white noise in the background while you pay your Aetna bills. And now, looking back, as I’ve also been writing for TV for the last four years (on Happy Endings, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), I’ve grown even more empathetic, as I know how hard it is to actually have all the pieces fit into place, in order to make something good.

That being said … this finale was one of the most bizarre episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

*  *  *

Before I get into it, when Vulture asked me to write this recap, I thought maybe I’d catch up on all four seasons I’d skipped — all the ones after Charlie Sheen had been booted for “living life to its fullest.” I looked up how many episodes I’d actually missed … 85. Fuck you — no way. I learn from my mistakes. I made a deal with myself — I’d watch the premiere and finale of each of the last four seasons. Since I’d last seen the show (season eight), Sheen was fired, Angus T. Jones was about to leave to become more religious, and Ashton was the new hunk. Would this even be the same beautiful piece of hot garbage I once knew? I can answer that with a resounding yes. As soon as I heard the “Men men men … ” theme song I felt like I was having a ’nam flashback. Within three minutes, Angus T. Jones farts while he eats, there’s a rape joke, and a Dharma and Greg cameo. I was back, baby!

Two and a Half Men is dirty as fuck. “But it’s on CBS, moron!” Sorry, you’re the moron. This show is unconscionably blue. It’s, like, 90 percent sex jokes. And 30 percent of those are anal jokes. Now, I like a good anal joke as much as the next perv, but the show feels like it was written by your crass, dirty uncle — the kind you catch staring at you seconds after you’ve taken your shirt off at the beach.

If you’ve never seen the show at all, here’s a series refresher: The show essentially began as The Odd Couple, but with a fat kid. Charlie Sheen was a womanizing alcoholic named Charlie Harper who lives with his brother, Alan, a nerdy divorcé played by Jon Cryer. Angus T. Jones plays Alan’s fat little son, Jake, who at some point in the show loses weight and becomes super dumb. They also have a housekeeper, Roberta, who lives with them and loves wearing vests. Eventually, Charlie marries his stalker (yup) and then gets hit by a train and dies. That’s when Ashton Kutcher moves in. Ashton plays a retired billionaire (yup) named Walden Schmidt. He’s naked a lot and, for some reason, always wears sandals. Also, Jake, the dumb son, joins the army and moves to Japan (yup). In this final season, Alan and Walden get married in order to adopt a child. That’s right — Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher get married. But in the same season, they also get divorced. Which is where we find everybody at the series finale. Cool.

Everything considered, I went into this episode with an open mind. Wow me, Lorre. Give me a show and all shall be forgotten. 

Bad news. Unfortunately, my open mind closed shop faster than a Radio Shack. When I say beyond weird, I mean beyond. Even by Two and a Half Men standards. The episode had everything. It was ridiculously dirty, including a Two and a Half Men staple — a rape joke, a weird collage of meta references, goat-fucking, crappy 3-D animation, and of course death! But the big question was: Would we get a sweet Charlie Sheen cameo?

One of the weirdest parts about the episode is that after a four-year absence, the show still seems obsessed with Sheen. The entire finale revolves around him. It’s almost like no one gave a shit about the last four years — they still were hung up about everything that went down with Charlie. Does anyone care anymore? I guess one guy does. This episode was to be their revenge. Buddy, your show’s been on for 12 seasons. Don’t you want to send off your characters in any type of meaningful way? Nah. Let’s just use the time to get back at someone for something people have long forgotten about.

So the show opens on Charlie’s stalker-wife, and it’s revealed that Charlie is actually alive and that his stalker-wife has been keeping Charlie as a prisoner in her basement, in the bottom of a well. And that’s wh— wait, WHAT? HOW? Why does she have a fucking WELL in her basement? Who cares!!! FYI — we never see Charlie or hear him in this scene. At this point, I was thinking he’s either not in the episode, or you could only get him for one scene, and this wasn’t it. The suspense was killlllllling me.

Meanwhile, Alan gets a notice in the mail that Charlie has unclaimed royalties from his jingle-writing to the tune of $2.5 million. Two and a half. There’s that beautiful number again. Alan wants the money, but he needs a death certificate in order to get it. The only problem is, no one has any record of Charlie’s death. By the way, at this point in the show, Jon Cryer’s hair is so sprayed on, he looks like he has Babyface’s haircut.

This is where the show begins to get ridiculously meta and self-referential. And not in a good ’Til Death way. They weren’t experimenting. It was more like a let’s-throw-the-show-under-the-bus type of way. Here’s a few of the references:

    ⁃    Jon Cryer calls Charlie Sheen irreplaceable to Ashton Kutcher.
    ⁃    Ashton turns to camera and says, “I can’t wait for this to be over.” From your lips, Ashton … This look into camera happened three more times on the show.
    ⁃    The only info Ashton can find about Charlie’s death online is … a rant about a former employer.
    ⁃    Cryer: “Why are you here?” Ashton: “I’ve been asking myself that since day one.”
    ⁃    Roberta (the housekeeper): “I believe if you move out and Charlie stays here with Walden, we can keep this going for another five years.”
    ⁃    “Start (the story) from the beginning.” “You mean from the pilot?”
    ⁃    “This whole thing has been going on way too long.” Alan: “Yeah, a lot of people have been saying that.”

Back to the story. So Charlie escapes out of the dungeon-well by tying his bowling shirts together. Way to pay off, bowling shirts! Alan, Walden, and Alan’s mom start to get threatening texts from someone who might be Charlie. Charlie seems to want revenge on his family — but he’s dead, right? Wrong. That’s when Charlie’s stalker-wife visits Alan and company and says that Charlie is actually still alive. She explains how it all went down. But instead of telling the story, we see it in a 3-D-animated flashback (maybe since Charlie couldn’t be there?) Yes, 3-D animation. Folks, this flashback was off-the-wall bonkers. First off, the animation was awful. I mean, it looked like a Veggie Tales sequel. Even the Nasonex bee would be horrified by it. So in the flashback, the stalker-wife explains that she and Charlie were happy and in love. To indicate this, we see Charlie snort cocaine as his nose turns into a vacuum. But then she catches him cheating on her — he has a threesome with a goat. Yeah, he fucks a goat. So she ties Charlie up and puts him in a well in her basement. Another revelation in this story — we find out she drugged and raped Charlie in her well, too. How does this show get away with this? The ending of the animation is also bizarro — Porky the Pig comes out wearing a bra and says, “That’s all folks!” which in any other context would be dynamite, but here it was just part of a shit sandwich.

When the story’s done, the stalker-wife leaves. SHE JUST LEAVES. She literally admits to holding Charlie captive for four years, drugging and raping him, and the family just lets this woman walk out the front door. Very chill. The family is more concerned with their own safety and Charlie’s revenge. So they go to the police. Perfect place for a cameo, and the show delivers — the cop is played by Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. Arnold then literally recaps what’s happening for the audience and in the process meta-jokes about how crazy it is (but YOU wrote it!). They also joke about Charlie being on Anger Management. At this point in the show, literally every joke is either meta or anal.

When everyone arrives home, Angus T. Jones stops by for a visit. He’s never on the show anymore, so this is a big deal. He’s skinny now, and he’s got a huge beard and dirty long hair. He looks like Cat Stevens boned Mickey Mouse. Now, Angus left the show for religious reasons and publicly called it “filth.” But I guess his principles weren’t important enough for him to stay out of the finale. He makes a joke about CUM within literally 30 seconds of appearing. He then reveals he’s married and says good-bye. Dope.

Finally, in the last shot of the series, Alan, Walden, and Roberta are all sitting on the patio, smoking cigars, and having a Scotch when a helicopter flies overhead. It’s carrying a grand piano and heading right for the house—

I sit up in my seat. Will they do it? Is Lorre going to kill off his three leads?? If he does, does that mean I … love this show?

But just then, Charlie Sheen walks up to the front door of the house — it’s not really him, it’s a double, booooo — and the piano drops on his head, killing him. What? Weird. Even weirder — the camera pulls out to show Chuck Lorre in a director’s chair, watching this take place on set. He then turns to camera (fourth time) and says, “WINNING!” Chuck’s gotten his revenge on Charlie. Congrats, I suppose? That’s when another piano falls, but this time on Lorre’s head. I guess no one gets away with anything! We’re all losers.

So the episode just ended up being a revenge story about someone who’s not even on the show anymore. Super. Nothing tied up with any of the characters. Which doesn’t seem fair to the show itself or the fans who stuck with it. In the end, it felt like the show didn’t give a fuck. If I were a longtime viewer, would I be pissed? Maybe? But I guess in a weird way, I am a longtime viewer, and I didn’t give a fuck either. I mean, maybe everyone at the show was treating it in the same way their audience does — like white noise.

And with that, I end my on-again, off-again relationship with Two and a Half Men. Good night, sweet prince. I bid you farewell.

♫ ♬ Men … ♫ ♬

Other random shit I loved:

—When they called anal “Tushy Sex.”

— My fave line from Jon Cryer: “January was butt-plug month.”

—A self-referential moment about all the incestual relationships on the show. Someone says, “After 12 years everyone slept with everyone.” This was true. We also find out that Alan got a hand job in a hotel bar from Walden’s mother.

—Dramatic music “Duh Duh Duh” only using the words “Men Men Men.”

—John Stamos making an appearance, having sex with Ashton’s ex-wife.

—Christian Slater cameo in a bowling shirt.

—Only thing missing from this ep was someone eating pizza with a fork and knife.

A previous version of this story misidentified the Nasonex bee as the Mucinex bee.

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