Friday, February 20, 2015

Two (not and a half) Smashed Pianos

Despite not having watched any of it for several years now, I watched the series finale of Two and a Half Men. It was kind of interesting.

For a finale, it mostly fulfilled the usual characteristics of one: Reappearance of old recurring characters/former main characters (except for the obvious big one) and, although it was quite overly rampant in this finale, intertextual jokes and pokes at the show's own writing, plus word-play by the characters referring to the show's run, plot, humour, and personalities. Even Charlie Sheen, his personal life, and recent sitcom Anger Management was referenced/joked about.

There was a time in the past where I extremely enjoyed this show. I even have the DVD box sets of seasons 1 up to 8 (I believe). I watched them all the time. Its original dynamic and origin was pretty good - take a lifestyle like Charlie Sheen's, create a sitcom around it - and then add in an uptight younger brother who's recently divorced, plus his ten-year-old son. That would be the clash of the lifestyles. There's nothing unbelievable about it.

But it didn't age well. Jake, for comedic purposes, got progressively more dim-witted until he essentially became an unsympathetic simpleton. I know a lot of people no doubt get a big laugh out of an unsophisticated character whose misunderstood wordplay in simple conversations only leads him to confusion and annoyed ignorance. At first, Charlie appeared to be an accepting, largely tolerable character who could be fun to watch, but as time went on, he only became more obnoxious, disinterested, and devoid of hardly any feeling. Originally his verbal matches with Alan and Evelyn were funny to watch; they ended up just being constantly, overly mean-spirited. Jokes and certain, tolerable personalities do eventually get old and intolerant.

Then there's Alan, a character I originally felt for and saw as the straightest of the straight men on the show. His character seemed like a normal, conscientious, relatively smart father personality who went through an unfortunate dilemma in life with his divorce. But as the seasons rolled by, any normal adult dignity he had wore away pretty quickly. He wasn't going anywhere. Not in terms of moving out or, apparently, in his career. Unfortunately, the show's dynamic could only work as long as he continued to have bad luck, money issues (believable or not) and only as long as his independence and sense of worth was continuously castrated, mauled, and hopelessly beaten out. Any sympathy I had for him no longer exists - he has no more shame or self-worth. He matured into a cartoon of a middle-aged man, the interminable butt of constant bad money/poor jokes that peppered the dialogue of a typical later series episode so much I wonder if the audience is supposed to spend every half-hour episode jeering maniacally at him. Are we supposed to feel superior and callous towards someone because they live in poverty? I say this because of an episode I did see from the ninth season involving a storm (Ep. 16), where Alan's and Walden's girlfriends argued with each other while stuck in the powerless house. Most of what I remember from those scenes are condescending remarks largely regarding Alan due entirely to his lack of money.

I'm impressed that a series such as this one was able to last for so long, especially after the star of it ended up fired after a series of televised and online rants and words and comments. I find most shows that lose its main star or character tend to last only 1 to 2 seasons at the most, as the main reason people watched it is nullified. The main reason I'm impressed though is its portrayal of relationships, women, and men's attitudes. I've read that it's been described as 'misogynistic.' I don't think that's too far off.

In the show's universe, relationships never pan out. Virtually every marriage mentioned or seen on the show ends in divorce - save for Judith's and Herb's. All three main characters - Alan, Charlie, and later Walden - seem to never pass up an opportunity for sex, regardless of where, when, and if it would mean cheating or ruining their situation or someone else's. I can understand Charlie's attitude and appetite for it (it's obvious right from the very first episode, part of his character) but by the latter half of the series every main character (including Jake in the end) has this sex-above-everything-else requirement. Women, by contrast, are portrayed as cruelly greedy, manipulative, entitled, controlling, and powerful in a seedy, mean-spirited kind of way. Not to mention superior and condescending.

In short, men are portrayed as sex-crazed, women superior and greedy objects, and relationships dead-end ways to be manipulated by them into losing your dignity, self-worth, and financial stability. Every character on that show came off as selfish, unsympathetic, sometimes bumbling, often callous. I didn't find a reason to like any of them, including Alan, to whom the writers never stopped short of being cruel to. If I were him I would have left that unforgiving, seedy environment long ago - no one would really care to miss him, it seems. The practice of chiropraxy isn't dead-end - where I live, chiropractors litter the area, along with dentists. I would have ended the series with him finally moving out, moving on, and creating a new life for himself elsewhere - particularly far away from where the show is set.

As for the finale, it seemed pretty promising up until near the end. I was hoping Charlie Sheen really would show up, having not died. Rose is a pretty insane character. The Looney-Tunes inspired backstory to how she imprisoned him was a neat element to the episode considering the character's actual state of mental stability. But instead an actor that resembled the back of his head and body size very closely had to show up at the last second - only to have a grand piano crush him at the front door.

I have never seen an ending to a series on TV where the departed main character shows up in the final scene only to be comically crushed by the piano he played so often in the early seasons - and then the creator and executive producer is revealed right afterwards, only for him to be similarly crushed. I guess it's an absurd ending to a comedy focusing on sex and hapless characters. I doubt any other series finale concludes with its own creator in a director's chair enveloped into the episode, sound stages revealed and all. Or falling baby grand pianos.

It is what it is. I wouldn't have expected it to end this way, which makes it interesting, so I think I'll just conclude on this note:


Red Cloud

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