In the end, not much had changed. After the tiger blood and the smack talk and the recasting and the months of speculation, the first episode of the new season of "Two and a Half Men" ended like so many had before: with a rich dude bedding two ladies while Jon Cryer's Alan sobbed himself to sleep.
And that's the real (and really kind of surprising) takeaway from Monday night's premiere: nothing's changed. Ashton Kutcher may have joined the cast, but the same collection of writers is still churning out jokes about threesomes, venereal diseases and flatulence. This sort of stuff, delivered in the guise of family-oriented primetime entertainment, either tickles your funny bone or it does not. Charlie Sheen's absence, as strange as it is to say and as large as his character's death loomed during the premiere, is almost beside the point.
And that made Kutcher's job all the easier as he slipped seamlessly into the familiar sitcom yuks. The morning after, TV critics are largely in agreement: The guy did pretty well. He hasn't remade the show in his own outsize image, but that surely was never creator Chuck Lorre's intention. Instead, Kutcher's debut assured the pop-culture universe that "Two and a Half Men" will continue to thrive (the premiere drew an astonishing 27.7 million viewers). Whether that's a good thing or not, though, is a question on which not everyone agrees.
Brilliant or Blah? Vote now on how Ashton fared last night.
"Kutcher's new character, Walden Schmidt, seems like a carefully drawn alternate universe caricature of Charlie Harper. Foremost that beard — something Charlie would never have had. The klutzy gentle persona. The utter cluelessness, about women or other people's motives. He stumbles into good fortune without even knowing — his billion; the women at the bar who were charmed by his destitution and loyalty to his ex. Mostly, he appears loyal to one woman — the woman who ditched him (played a bit later by Judy Greer.)" — Verne Day, Newsday
"Kutcher's performance was good, nearly as poker-faced fine as Sheen's was. (Beware of the impending revisionism that Kutcher is superior to Sheen as a comic actor — Sheen really had a knack for this gig, and was a generous reactor to Cryer. Kutcher will probably prove just as skilled.)" — Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly
"Is there as much humor to be mined from a goofy, well-endowed billionaire as there was from a not-as-wealthy jingle writer who seemed to satisfy women just as easily? Early indicators suggest no, seeing as the sitcom already and quickly played the 'Look, He Accidentally Bedded Two Hotties At Once While Alan Lay Weeping and [BLEEP]ing' card." — Matt Webb Mitovich, TVLine.com
The Final Word
"Kutcher showed for years on 'That '70s Show' that the multi-camera sitcom format is an arena he can thrive in, and he seemed fine in his half of the episode. He's not going to transform 'Men' into a show I want to watch, but he fit in very well." — Alan Sepinwall, HitFix.com
Did you catch Ashton's "Two and a Half Men" debut? Tell us what you thought in the comments section!