After twelve years of shoving raunchy, sexually explicit “humor” into American living rooms, CBS’ Two and a Half Men is no more. In celebration, the program’s February 19th series finale has been named the Worst TV Show of the Week.
“Dear (Name Withheld by Network Censor): Please know that I am committed to making season eight of Two and a Half Men as easy for you as possible. I have vowed to eliminate all the penis jokes, vagina jokes, boob jokes, orgasm jokes, masturbation jokes, oral sex jokes, prison sex jokes, insertion jokes, pee jokes, poop jokes, booger jokes, puke jokes, fart jokes and ethnic jokes that have caused you and your colleagues at broadcast standards so much distress. Going forward, I sincerely hope this letter helps you to put aside any worries you might have about the creative direction of the show. P.S. Look forward to hearing your comments regarding tonight’s episode, which dealt with Jake having a menage a trois while Charlie drinks himself to death and Alan gets caught banging Jake’s best friend’s drug-addled mom.” – Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre (“vanity card,” May 24, 2010)
Chuck Lorre’s legacy is secure. There can be no question that Lorre’s television series Two and a Half Men will go down in media history as a landmark program, one that transformed the nature and direction of the prime-time situation comedy.
Which is not to say it was a good program, or that its influence was healthy. After all, Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine transformed American culture, too; and the comparison with Lorre’s show is apt. While sexism existed before Playboy, after its debut Hefner’s glamorization of nudity, casual sex, and women as objects of male sexual gratification moved the needle on both attitudes toward women and sexually explicit content. Today the Playboy mentality so dominates our entertainment and mass culture that semi-nudity is de rigueur on magazine covers and prime-time TV, and millions of girls and young women struggle with issues of sexualization and self-esteem.
So too with Two and a Half Men. Prior to Lorre’s show, sexual content was hardly unknown even on prime-time TV; but it was largely restricted to innuendo (such as the famous “master of my domain” episode of Seinfeld). But Lorre took what had been subtle and (usually) tasteful and made it blatant and crass. Here are just a couple examples of the kind of content typical of Two and a Half Men:
Walden: “You’re watching porn at 3 in the morning?”
Alan: “It’s that softcore flick Lindsay made back in the ‘90s. ‘Cinnamon’s Buns.’ Nothing brings me back like hearing her fake an orgasm.” (February 27, 2014)
Walden: “I want you to get your penis out of my business!”
Alan: “Change ‘business’ to ‘turkey,’ and it’s the story of how a 13 year old boy named Alan ruined Thanksgiving.” (January 29, 2014)
Alan and Walden go through their mail
Alan: “Something for Charlie.”
Walden: “I told you to cancel his subscription to the Sex Toy of the Month Club.”
Alan: “Can’t. He paid for life. January was butt plug month.” (February 19, 2015)
“If, in the past, you enjoyed thinking, ‘I can’t believe they just did that raunchy joke,’ you will not be disappointed.” – Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre (TV Guide, September 13, 2011)
Lorre’s program became the new standard-bearer for sewage on television. Due to its crude shock value, the program did initially attract some viewers; but for many years now, it has continued largely because of CBS’ preference for long-running series (how many years has the CSI franchise gone on?) And, as a result, television as a whole has become filled with explicit sexual dialogue, both on Lorre’s own other shows (The Big Bang Theory, Mike and Molly, Mom), and by those who imitated him…until today, prime-time “comedies” contain little else but explicit sex talk, in the belief that such content constitutes “humor.”
It’s hard to know which was the most malign effect of Two and a Half Men: the waste it made of talented actors like Ashton Kutcher and Courtney Thorne-Smith (and even, once upon a time, Charlie Sheen); the utterly juvenile nature of its writing, which apparently assumed that merely using words like “box,” “come,” and “goes down” was hilarious, as if the show’s audience was composed entirely of sniggering, sex-crazed adolescents; or the sheer laziness of CBS in not even trying to make something better. In an entire universe full of potential subjects for humor, it ought to be possible to make a joke about something other than venereal disease or anal sex; but Two and a Half Men didn’t even try.
“I’m on Two and a Half Men and I don’t want to be on it. If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching it and filling your head with filth. People say it’s just entertainment. Do some research on the effects of television and your brain, and I promise you you’ll have a decision to make when it comes to television, especially with what you watch.” – former Two and a Half Men star Angus T. Jones (The Hollywood Reporter, November 26, 2012)
As can be seen by the quote from his “vanity card” above, Lorre sneered at the very notion of networks maintaining any sort of standards whatsoever. Clearly, Lorre believed it was his “right” to use the airwaves – airwaves owned by the American people – for any language or action, no matter how crass. Nor did CBS ever act responsibly by enforcing minimal broadcast standards, or by restricting the show’s use of crude sex talk.
Lorre also clashed frequently with the Parents Television Council. The PTC dared to stand up against him and CBS, and call his show out for the humorless cesspool of crude sex talk that it was. Even more disturbing to Lorre than our criticism, however, was our activism. PTC members frequently encouraged advertisers to reconsider their decision to purchase commercial time on the program. So successful was the PTC in this effort that over the years, no fewer than 35 sponsors withdrew from Two and a Half Men, including major advertisers like Lowe’s, PNC Bank, Nissan, and General Mills. As a result, Lorre frequently attacked the PTC by name in his show’s post-credit “vanity cards.”
“If you found [Two and a Half Men] deeply offensive before, it’s still deeply offensive.” –Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer (Entertainment Weekly, September 1, 2011)
It is some kind of twisted tribute to CBS’ laziness and unwillingness to change, and to producer Chuck Lorre’s utter creative bankruptcy, that after 12 seasons on the air Two and a Half Men remained a home for crude sex talk. Not even the departure of the show’s stars Charlie Sheen and Angus T. Jones (who left the show finally disgusted by the program’s content) stopped Lorre from pushing on with his tired white elephant of a show, until finally it collapsed of its own weight and weariness.
The last episode consisted of a series of cameo appearances from the show’s past actors, and increasingly obvious jokes about how Two and a Half Men is out of ideas, had an illogical premise, went on too long, and so forth. From someone else, such jokes would be humorously self-deprecating and self-referential; but from Chuck Lorre, they were merely lazy and indicative of the program’s utter creativity bankruptcy.
But now, at long last, this program is at an end. Sadly, the system of explicit sex talk substituting for humor which Lorre put in place now dominates nighttime TV; but at least Two and a Half Men itself is over. In celebration of that fact it is our honor, it is our pleasure, one last time, to name CBS’ Two and a Half Men the Worst TV Show of the Week.