Two and a Half Men, Men, Men, Men, Manly Men

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For some reason, I ended up on CBS last night and sat through Two and a Half Men. I had seen this show once or twice, a long time ago, and didn’t even realize it was still on the air. After wasting half an hour of my evening, I remained baffled as to why this show is 1) on the air and 2) even moderately successful. I’m not sure I’ve ever sat through a half hour of such complete shit in my life. Apparently I’ve been lucky, or have been hiding under a rock.

Basic premise of the show: Younger adult brother Alan is divorced and apparently unable to afford living on his own (the evil ex-wife got everything, you know). He lives with the older brother, Charlie, and Alan’s son Jake frequently stays there as well. Alan and Charlie have an antagonistic relationship with their mother and, I’m guessing, all women.

Last night was the Christmas episode for the year. The entire thing revolved primarily around Jake. Jake is fifteen and has his first real girlfriend. The first time we see him in the episode, he’s standing on the deck, watching a volleyball game being played on the beach. Enter Uncle Charlie, who sees a girl wave and smile at Jake and encourages him to go talk to her. Jake says no, he’s got a girlfriend.

To which Charlie basically says, “So? She’s out of town for the holidays, so it’s okay to tap that.”

Jake, being a hormonal teenaged boy, doesn’t take much persuading, and Uncle Charlie is renowned for being a womanizer. Charlie is proud of the kid and announces it to everyone else at the party, as Jake and the volleyball girl go off to her hotel. The mother agrees that Jake should take the opportunity to cheat on his girlfriend, because it’s just an “out of town strange”. This apparently makes it not count as actual infidelity. It’s a chance that shouldn’t be overlooked. WHAT?

Alan, at least, as the father, is horrified that Charlie has influenced his son this way, but is rather impotent at trying to do anything about it. He does eventually manage to get Jake on the phone and tell him to get back, but it’s emphasized his primary motivation is he wants Jake around family (such that it is) for the holidays.

So once Alan accomplishes this, there comes the knock on the door. It’s the girlfriend and her mother, there to drop off a gift for Jake before they officially leave town. Jake and the volleyball girl, of course, return before good old Uncle Charlie can get the girlfriend out of the house. Uh oh! Cue the canned audience laughter. Oh, the hilarity!

The girlfriend instantly dumps Jake, and volleyball girl is appalled Jake had a girlfriend and still picked her up. Jake, rather than own up to his own part in the mess, blames Uncle Charlie completely. Now he’s miserable and his life is ruined, because he didn’t have brains enough not to realize before he got caught that what he was doing was not okay by American social standards.

What troubles me about this show, if this episode is anything to go by, and I think it is pretty indicative, is that it’s reinforcing truly horrible “norms” for behavior by men. No one would look at this show and seriously think these characters are to be emulated, I know that. But the damage is still being done. It’s a this is how guys are and isn’t it so funny! and a wink wink nudge nudge boys will be boys kind of destructiveness one would think would be obvious, but judging from the ratings and the fact this show has been on the air for nearly seven years – I guess the line between appalling and amusing is far more blurred than I think it is.

And I didn’t even mention the geriatric, wheelchair-bound random old man the mother brought along, who spent the evening making crass remarks and hitting on the housekeeper with an air of good old boy charm (aka entitlement).

Ugh. Just ugh. We have write-in campaigns to save shows, why can’t we have a write-in campaign to cancel this horrible, horrible, horrible piece of excrement? Should we compile a list of the worst offenders?

No, that would get out of hand really fast. ;)

Comments

  1. Anemone says

    How old are these manly men? At first I thought “starter marriage – still in 20s” but then I did the math and with a 15 year old son, the younger brother is old enough to be all grown up now (+35). Which means that so is the older brother.

    I think there are too many TV stations. Are there really any more quality TV programs now than there were before cable? It sure doesn’t look like it to me. (Though I do approve of entire stations dedicated to reruns of classic shows. Let’s keep those.)

  2. sbg says

    The eldest is forty-two.

    I seriously felt dirty after watching it. I can’t understand how anyone would voluntarily watch that week after week.

    I think there could be fewer quality TV programs now, or maybe it seems that way because you have to wade through so much crap.

  3. Nymeria says

    I watched about five minutes of an episode, once. It was horrible. I can never understand why stuff like this is so popular.

    Granted, sitcoms have always confused me. (Why are there a group of people laughing every 12 seconds? Is that supposed to be a cue for me to laugh too? It’s creepy! Stop!)

  4. The Other Patrick says

    Well, don’t forget that the jokes aren’t funny and the show isn’t half as energetic as the better comedies.

  5. Robin says

    As far as I can tell, the show’s “success” is entirely dependent on its over-50 audience. Maybe it’s a generational thing? From the brief bits I’ve seen while waiting for other shows to start, I certainly don’t find it funny. And if, god forbid, it continues much longer they’re going to have to change the title to reflect the fact that the kid won’t be a kid anymore. I think the thing about this show that makes me saddest is seeing Jon Cryer, my darling Duckie, fallen so far. :(

    As for this specific episode… yeah, I got nothin’ to add. Well said.

  6. says

    If it’s any help, we got a comment which I didn’t allow through moderation. It explained that we were all “stuck-up, snobby women” (Hi, Other Patrick! When’d you get the sex change op?) who “dump on guy jokes” (infidelity is a guy joke? Oh, right, so is rape! Makes sense!). He then informs us that “womens shows are just as bad” (because we don’t criticize SitC right here on this page that Trog found, he assumes we worship it). He goes on to explain this is one of the few shows on TV that really IS funny. Then he advises us, in a long-winded speech about the American Way, because obviously we are all in America, there being no other group of English speaking people in the world (Hi, Anemone! When’d ya move here?), that we should change the channel.

    So, I guess the show appeals to people who are too lazy to use their brains. He knows the show is funny because the canned laughter told him so.

  7. Charles RB says

    “Why are there a group of people laughing every 12 seconds?”

    a) There’s a live audience in the studio (and they’re also watching the non-live bits), and they’re enjoying the show.

    b) The studio wants you to think there’s an audience and that they enjoy it.

    You can tell a real audience from the odd laugh in the wrong place, coughing, actors having to pause for a while to let the laughing finish or playing scenes up to keep it going, and _very distinctive_ laughs that are louder than everyone else.

    Then there’s those “hurhurhur” ones that all sound homogenous and stilted. I HOPE that’s canned laughter and not an audience being polite…

  8. Anemone says

    It might actually be an audience being polite. My brother went to a live taping (or did I get this story off the internet somewhere? – can’t remember) and he said that the laughter tends to be most authentic for the first take, but then there’s the second take, and maybe a third take, so it gets harder to keep the response fresh.

    Any veteran studio audience members in the audience who can clarify?

  9. Charles RB says

    I’ve seen outtakes and behind-the-scenes bits, so yeah, if there’s a flubbed take* everyone has to laugh again. (I think they try to use as much of the original as possible) With some shows I’ve seen though, it sounds _incredibly_ stilted; it could be they’ve redone the scene to death, but it does sound like they’re just being nice.

    * Another way to tell it’s a real audience: lots of funny outtakes on the DVDs as the actors play up their flub (there’s _hours_ of Red Dwarf ones) or mess around between takes to amuse the audience. I’m betting there won’t be too many of those for _this_ sitcom!

  10. sbg says

    It explained that we were all “stuck-up, snobby women” (Hi, Other Patrick! When’d you get the sex change op?) who “dump on guy jokes” (infidelity is a guy joke? Oh, right, so is rape! Makes sense!).

    Awesome. Here I thought I just dumped on bad jokes or jokes in bad taste.

    I guess, as a stuck-up, snobby woman, I should learn to laugh at a half hour sitcom geared in so many ways to denigrate women, so that I can better understand the good ol’ American boys like Trog.

  11. SunlessNick says

    I think there could be fewer quality TV programs now, or maybe it seems that way because you have to wade through so much crap.

    I think in part, the scale has stretched; the best stuff now is better than the best stuff then, but the worst stuff now is also worse than the worst stuff then.

    I should learn to laugh at a half hour sitcom geared in so many ways to denigrate women, so that I can better understand the good ol’ American boys like Trog.

    So what if I chime in and say I think this review (and everything else I’ve seen about it) makes Two and Half Men look like crud? And that the only thing that’s funny about the infidelity scenario is the Schadenfreude inherent in seeing Jake busted? Does Trog assume I’m a woman, and if he doesn’t does his brain melt?

    Actually, the sequence you describe does have one thing in it I like: the volleyball girl didn’t know Jake had a girlfriend, and when she found out, was appalled at him rather than being competitive with her. Similar to the point Revena makes about Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man 3.

  12. says

    (Maria V. told me to repost this here from her FB)

    Both my mid-40s parents love this show. But then, my dad loves the guy with the racist ventriloquist muppets, and my mom watches TMZ and Judge Judy. Their saving grace as far as taste in TV is that they both like CNN and Fringe… although I’ve got my doubts about Astrid’s role as Convenient Plot Device Girl.

    Also, funny (as in, “bizarro”) fact: apparently, some of the people behind “2 1/2 Douchebags” are behind “Big Bang Theory.” Buuuuuhhh?!

  13. Scarlett says

    I lost interest in the show when they had Alan apparantly be so broke after paying alimony that he had to live with his brother. ‘Cos all ex-wives are greedy, devious bitches looking to fleeces their husbands, apparantly.

  14. sbg says

    So what if I chime in and say I think this review (and everything else I’ve seen about it) makes Two and Half Men look like crud? And that the only thing that’s funny about the infidelity scenario is the Schadenfreude inherent in seeing Jake busted? Does Trog assume I’m a woman, and if he doesn’t does his brain melt?

    You don’t count. You’re British. ;)

    It’s seriously a terrible show. We finally got According to Jim off the air, now this show must die. It’s awful.

    Actually, the sequence you describe does have one thing in it I like: the volleyball girl didn’t know Jake had a girlfriend, and when she found out, was appalled at him rather than being competitive with her. Similar to the point Revena makes about Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man 3.

    There wasn’t much of a chance, as the girlfriend dashed out pretty quickly.

    And I’ve just thought of something else – the fact that I cannot remember either the girlfriend’s or the volleyball girl’s names really brings home the point that these girls are more objects than actual people/characters. They’re incidental. What we all need to focus on are the boorish men.

  15. sbg says

    Both my mid-40s parents love this show. But then, my dad loves the guy with the racist ventriloquist muppets

    OMG, a friend sent me a link to one of that guys acts and I could only drop my jaw in horror. There can be a lot in humor that intentionally pushes the offensive envelope, but there’s that and then there’s just plain offensive.

    Puppet Guy is just plain offensive, and not funny.

  16. Scarlett says

    @ Jennifer. The premise of the show, from what I’ve seen, is that Alan is too broke after paying alimony to afford his own place, so living rent-free with his brother is his only option. Every episode I’ve seen (damn you, little brother, for having it on whenever it airs!) has some reference to the ex-wife (God forbid, I think her name is Judith) either not caring about how debilitating the payments are to Alan, or taking a malicious delight out of it. (In one episode she tells him that even if his second wife takes him to the cleaners, he’s not getting out of the payments.)

    Or it involves Alan being so broke that if he wants to buy something big for Jake – a car, a college education – he has to go grovelling to his mother, this nasty piece of work who enjoys insulting everyone and everything and keeping the purse strings clutched tight. They and Charlie’s maid (who I have another set of issues with) are the three *main* female characters (in the sense that they appear almost every episode, although mainly to facilitate Alan and Charlie’s storylines) and they’re all such atrocious tropes of womanhood.

    Wait, what am I saying? Alan and Charlie are no better. The entire show is an atrocious trope.

  17. AlsoKT says

    It’s pretty damn difficult to get alimony these days at all. I tend to roll my eyes when someone in fiction is getting alimony without a good explanation of why.

    Ahem. Star Trek. So the Federation is a post-capitalist utopia, and yet the unnamed ex-Mrs. McCoy can still “take” “his” property in divorce proceedings. Property that seems to include his job. What?

    Off-topic, I know, but the Thieving Ex-Wife trope makes me scream for oh, so many reasons. As for Two and a Half Men, my mom watches it sometimes and it’s vile. The only gag on that show I ever remember making me laugh was when the three were watching a CSI-esque show and its theme song was “Squeeze Box”.

  18. sbg says

    Or it involves Alan being so broke that if he wants to buy something big for Jake – a car, a college education – he has to go grovelling to his mother, this nasty piece of work who enjoys insulting everyone and everything and keeping the purse strings clutched tight. They and Charlie’s maid (who I have another set of issues with) are the three *main* female characters (in the sense that they appear almost every episode, although mainly to facilitate Alan and Charlie’s storylines) and they’re all such atrocious tropes of womanhood.

    This. I gleaned this as an accidental, car-wreck-can’t-look-away viewer, so the fact that every major female player is somehow the cause of the manly men’s problems can’t, imo, be anything other than a major, major issue.

  19. Patrick says

    sbg, I’m afraid that TAAHM isn’t just “moderately successful.” It has been, for several seasons now, the top-rated sitcom on American TV.

    I’ve had the misfortune to see quite a few episodes of this show, and it really is just as horrible as that one episode indicated. I agree with your assessment that while we are supposed to be laughing at, rather than with, these horrible examples of humanity, there is a strong undercurrent of “but they’re guys, so what can you do?”

    Oh, and Alan’s ex-wife Judith? Absolutely the “harpy” steretype. Shrill, demeaning, sexless, everything you fear she would be.

  20. says

    sbg, I’m afraid that TAAHM isn’t just “moderately successful.” It has been, for several seasons now, the top-rated sitcom on American TV.

    Unfortunately, it’s anyone’s guess whether this is really reflective of American viewing preferences. While it’s a matter of dispute whether the Nielsens have ever been intentionally manipulated, they are indisputably about as accurate as you polling all your co-workers about what they watched last night. The Nielsens use way too small a sample group, pick households by demographics rather than randomly, ignore what’s being viewed by most college kids living away from home, rely on self-reporting and ignore tons of data (i.e., after you’ve watched roughly the minutes the first act of a show takes, the box doesn’t record any channel changing, so if the second act loses your interest, it doesn’t note that).

  21. Scarlett says

    Can someone explain alimony to me? We don’t have it in Australia. I understand it has something to do with ‘maintaining a lifestyle that they (the ex-spouse) are used to’, but every example I’ve seen in fiction has someone otherwise perfectly capable of maintaining their own comfortable lifestyle getting exorbitant alimony payments which, in the case of TAAHM, usually allows them to live better than their ex-spouse, and that these payments go until their either die or remarry, and who would remarry when you can live in a defacto relationship and keep recieving these exorbintant payments? At least, that’s how it comes across to me.

  22. 12Sided says

    Ugh in my family my nana lives with us and for some reason she LOVES this show. For a while my mum watched it as well while I kinda sat there for a little while wondering what was wrong with them. Now I tend to flee from the television whenever it comes on.
    The first episode is one I’ve had the misfortune of seeing twice, trying to set the younger brother up as this pedandic but Nice Guy, and he really is a ‘Nice Guy’. Then the ex-wife is with a group of female friends who start out with Harpy-esque hating Nice Guy but of course end up loving him… or was that the older brother?
    Either way the whole thing just makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall. It’s unbelievable that people will watch this tripe

  23. says

    Scarlett, alimony was originally a monthly payment wives got from husbands after divorces, because in those days no way could a woman earn what a man could and women were basically expected to earn their way by being someone’s wife. If she had married with the understanding she’d live a certain lifetyle, and then divorce screwed that up, the husband was accountable to her. If she found a new husband, the previous husband’s accountability ended.

    Before I continue, I must say rarely did women EVER get enough to screw up their ex’s lifestyle. If you think about it, it’s not even plausible that mostly male judges would have awarded sums that big to women routinely. But because really privileged men have always controlled the media, naturally you get all this whining about the unfairness of the system – because privileged folks find it highly offensive when anyone, you know, suggests they are accountable for their own deeds, some of which come with a price tag.

    Now that women are generally as capable of supporting themselves as men are, and in some cases out-earn their husbands, alimony is much less common. Sometimes husbands get it from wives, too. Sadly, nowadays, even when alimony would make sense (for example, older women raised before all these opportunities were available to women, or people kept from accruing job skills by an abusive spouse), it’s damn hard to get it.

    TV shows about women who get tremendous alimony payments for no reasons fuel the belief that Those Bitchez Have It Too Easy so blatantly that I consider them not just entertainment, but a political attack on my gender AND on the legal system that doesn’t do enough to protect victimized spouses (men included) and punish abusive spouses. Imagine if most sitcoms portrayed men as getting out of child support payments in their divorce negotiations – and judges as allowing them to. Imagine the uproar. And yet the myth that women routinely convince judges to award them enough alimony to make their exes financially suffer? That’s high-larious!

    Anyone who can suspend their disbelief of these bullshit storylines long enough to enjoy a sitcom is a misogynistic asshole. Period, end of story.

  24. Charles RB says

    “Sometimes husbands get it from wives, too”

    I wonder how well Two and a Half Women would do, with the younger sister having to stay with the older sister because of crippling alimony payments to her ex-husband.

    I bet it wouldn’t do as well as Two and a Half Men.

  25. Scarlett says

    The situation Jenn described sounds fair although I think the idea is generally a bit antiquated. But the context I’ve always heard of it in are perfectly capable of supporting themselves comfortably and often circumventing the spirit of the idea by living in defacto relationship rather than remarrying, thus being financially supported by both the ex and the defacto husband.

  26. sbg says

    I wonder how well Two and a Half Women would do, with the younger sister having to stay with the older sister because of crippling alimony payments to her ex-husband.

    I bet it wouldn’t do as well as Two and a Half Men.

    That would be instantly called out for being unrealistic. ;)

  27. says

    That would be instantly called out for being unrealistic.

    I second that. Also, it wouldn’t be very interesting because we all know in real life women have it so easy. ;)

    But the context I’ve always heard of it in are perfectly capable of supporting themselves comfortably and often circumventing the spirit of the idea by living in defacto relationship rather than remarrying, thus being financially supported by both the ex and the defacto husband.

    Exactly. And the really ugly irony of this trope is that the legal system has been far more helpful to MEN who use it to abuse their ex-wives and kids than it ever was to women. Women who found a way to get the system to help them abuse their ex-husbands have GOT to be way outnumbered by men who’ve gotten the system to help them screw their ex-wives and kids. But TV and film have dutifully represented things the other way around so we will all learn that men are entitled to everything and women who get anything, ever, are evil unloving harpies who should be shot on sight.

  28. says

    For the life of me, I have never encountered any person, male or female, who likes this show, or isn’t completely baffled by its continued production. This is probably one of the smarter episodes, too.

  29. Cate says

    Sadly, this isn’t funny just to older people. Among people who believe that women are equal now and feminists are angry, this is a “funny because it’s true” show about men. I’ve watched it with some (ages 14-24), and had to tolerate comments about the younger brother being a victim of his ex-wife, and not an odious person in his own right.

  30. Stargazer says

    As someone who has the misfortune to live under the same roof as a fan of the show, I completely agree. Two and a Half Dickheads is utter shit, albeit shit that’s broadcast seven times a week where I live.

  31. Patrick says

    I’m afraid that TAAHM isn’t just moderately successful, it has consistently been among the top-rated sitcoms on TV.

  32. Amber says

    I found this site due to a googling of the quote “out of town strange.” I do like this show, and many classmates of mine do too, and I think one reason people like this show is because it’s not a model of perfect behavior for men like so many family sitcoms, which makes it appalling to some and amusing to others.

    I actually agree with everything (except taking it off the air) you’ve said – it indeed reinforces terrible principles and shows a poor depiction of women (even Charlie’s intelligent girlfriends are treated as objects), but somehow I’m able to suspend the dire implications of what Charlie & co. do and enjoy the show. I suppose I am turning off my brain, but TAAHM is a guilty pleasure for me.

  33. Calirodan says

    This articulated really well the reasons why I never cared for this show (but couldn’t quite put my finger on).

    Years ago, in 1994, I was a 22-year-old counselor at a Girl Scout Camp in the southern Sierras. My group of 24 9-11 year old girls and I were on the rafting company’s shuttle bus that was taking us from the rafting trip take-out back to their parking lot. When we got on, we sat in front of a group of men who had a boy with them who appeared to be about 13. The men all elbowed the boy and said something like, “Wow, it’s your lucky day, a whole bus full of girls!” He was at that age where he was mortified to have adults even mentioning that he might be interested in girls. But whatever, I let it go. The adult men continued their discussion with the boy, and it quickly progressed into “what kind do you prefer?” They started making comments about specific girls in the group, saying things like, “that one has long legs, do you go for leggy women?” I finally turned around and said, “Look, the girls in this group are between 9 and 11 years old. It is really not appropriate at all for you to be making physical comments about their appearance.” The men looked at me like I must have something up my butt, and then proceeded to loudly discuss their experiences with various drugs, in front of the girls, just to get my goat I guess. I remember mostly just feeling sorry for their son, who had looked embarrassed throughout the whole thing.

    Anyway, the first time I saw “Two and A Half Men,” I remember thinking the same thing. I felt sorry for a boy who grew up in that kind of environment (even though of course Jake is a fictional character). Still, it’s sad that we’re sending those messages to teenage boys, who often end up becoming confused and embarrassed, and who then end up wondering why they have problems with women.

    • says

      I have gotten men like that to go fuck off someplace else by loudly talking about their appearance in what I call “frat boy” terms. The problem is: you couldn’t do that in front of girls that age.

      If anyone’s curious, just think of the most uncharitable things you’ve ever heard men or boys say about women’s bodily “imperfections” (according to them), get into extremely picky mode, and start tearing down the harassing male. Include not just remarks about his deficient appearance, but also about how you wouldn’t touch an uggo like that after a dozen beers because being so unattractive, he can’t possibly have enough experience in bed to be any good.

      Generally, harassers just cannot stand having it dished back, so they move away.

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