God, you people are like a box of hamsters, just crawling all over each other.
—Berta, “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Burro”
During a parent-teacher visit, Alan (Jon Cryer) and Judith (Marin Hinkle), divorced parents of 10-year-old Jake (Angus T. Jones), the former found a new kind of courage. When Judith sniffed, “I don’t know about his father, but I’ve tried to share some of my interests with [Jake],” Alan came back immediately: “Unfortunately, he’s a little young to drink in the dark and bitch about men.”
Both Alan and brother Charlie (Charlie Sheen) went through changes in the third season of Two and a Half Men, to the point that Alan, the anal-retentive, logical brother, got a steady ditzy girlfriend, and Charlie, the irresponsible Casanova, became involved in a serious relationship.
Often, when characters go through such shifts in personality, a series has run short of ideas. This isn’t the case with Two and a Half Men, the cleverest sitcom on tv. Alan and Charlie have changed because they have grown up, their transformations intelligently worked into storylines. Thus, fans of the show can accept the changes without feeling it has “jumped the shark.”
Ultimately, Two and a Half Men remains a series about sex: desire and conquest motivate both brothers. When Charlie met Mia (Emmanuelle Vaugier) in “That Voodoo That I Do Do,” his immediate response was to get her into bed, as he had done so easily with hundreds of other women. Her refusal to sleep with him without a serious commitment caused Charlie to reconsider his “lifestyle,” deciding eventually that he was willing to forego other relationships for a monogamous one with Mia.
During a brief break-up, in “Love Isn’t Blind, It’s Retarded,” Charlie returned to his old ways, bringing home Kandi (April Bowlby), the most delightfully funny new character of the tv season. Mia and Charlie’s reconciliation drove Kandi into Alan’s arms, and he experienced his first casual, meaningless relationship with the bubble-headed vixen. When asked what she saw in the dweebish Alan, Kandi said it was the sex: “With Alan, it’s like being in the back seat of a car driven by a really smart kangaroo. He may go up on the curb a couple times, but he’ll get you there.” Alan, of course, was thrilled to have a woman he would have considered “out of his league.” Even Charlie’s biker housekeeper Berta (Conchata Ferrell) is smitten with Kandi, noting, “I haven’t sampled anything from the other side of the buffet since I traveled with the Grateful Dead, but Golly Moses, she’s a muffin.”
Alan’s new relationship gave him the courage to stand up to his manipulative ex-wife, a long overdue development. Judith’s bullying of Alan had grown tiresome after two seasons; although his boldness extended only to verbal barbs, it was nice to see him show some backbone at last. Not surprisingly, it was a brief sexual liaison with Judith that brought about his new sarcastic attitude, as it convinced Alan for the first time that the divorce was the right decision.
As is typical of the series, Charlie and Alan weren’t the only characters to let their sexual desires govern their actions. Charlie’s stalker neighbor Rose (Melanie Lynskey) got a boyfriend when she realized that Charlie would never be hers. In “The Unfortunate Little Schnauzer,” Charlie and Alan’s mother, Evelyn (Holland Taylor), alienated Charlie by hooking up with both his arch-nemesis, Archie (Jon Lovitz), and Rose’s father (Martin Sheen). And young Jake had his first crush on a girl, though he foolishly turned to his uncle for relationship advice.
Unexpectedly, this sexual play also allowed Two and a Half Men to work out story arcs missing from the first two episodic seasons. This year, it dug into its characters’ emotional lives, exploring the turmoil in Charlie’s life. When his brother and nephew moved in with him, he wasn’t only a womanizing bachelor, but a man with responsibilities, frustrating as they may have seemed to him.
Within this family structure, Berta became more visible, offering comic observations about the other characters, probing their warped psyches. Rarely does Berta have a storyline of her own, but Farrell’s dead-on delivery made her a vital part of the show. Also expanding the series’ scope, Kandi brought a skewed perspective (her favorite musical is “the trombone”) and served as an oblivious target for the other characters’ insults, thankfully reducing the sniping that Charlie and Alan direct at one another. Her addition also set up a direction for Season Four, as Alan and Kandi were married in this season’s finale. (Alan’s announcement that he and Kandi will be getting their own place wasn’t exactly good news for Charlie, as his refusal to kick Alan out was the catalyst for breaking his engagement to Mia.)
Despite all the changes occurring in tv comedy (see: the soapish Desperate Housewives and the annoying Office), Two and a Half Men demonstrates that the laugh-out-loud sitcom is not yet dead. Charlie, Alan, and their friends and family may be like hamsters, but it’s great fun to look inside their box and watch them squirm.