TV Review - Two and a Half Men, Law & Order: SVU, and The Office

Two and a Half Men, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and The Office are all firmly established shows that have been on the air for years and each share the same thing this season. CSI can be in this group, but I haven't been watching that series. What is it that all these shows have in common? All of them have leading actors who left last season, leaving the rest of the cast to move on without them.

Two and a Half Men is the one that garnered the most headlines, probably because its leading man, Charlie Sheen, didn't simply leave his show due to the end of his contract or due to his disinterest in situational comedy. Charlie Sheen was fired. Oddly enough, during the ninth season premiere, which aired September 19th, Sheen was absent from the CBS sitcom, but, if viewers merely clicked over to Comedy Central that same night, they could have gotten their Sheen fix.

The Roast of Charlie Sheen put the unemployed actor in the hot seat where tough comics and even friends ridiculed and ripped into Sheen brutally. As that roast proved though, Sheen wasn't fired from CBS because of drug abuse or his arrest record. He was fired because he mouthed off to the creator of Two and a Half Men.

There was seemingly a lot of bad blood, so it was interesting to see how that would manifest itself, once the show went back on the air. Much could probably be said of the fact that Sheen's character was killed off, but aside from the opening scene, which was the funeral for Sheen's character, the show ultimately reduces Sheen's absence to one joke and then swiftly forgets about it and him.

Ashton Kutcher was hired to fill the void. Kutcher plays Walden Schmidt, a billionaire not unlike Mark Zuckerberg but only taller, better looking and a propensity to be naked. Schmidt is suicidal and tries to kill himself near the beach house where Sheen's character and his brother, Alan, played by Jon Cryer, reside.

I haven't watched the first eight seasons of this show, so I'm not sure what the dynamic was like, but from this episode and the subsequent one, it appears the Cryer is the one doing all the heavy-lifting. In a sitcom like this, the show is basically setup and punchline, setup and punchline. For one thing, Cryer seemed to be getting the bulk of the punchlines, but probably because Ashton isn't introduced until a third of the way through it.

Yet, even when it came to the comedic acting, Cryer came off as a seasoned pro. He sold his character, way more than Kutcher sold his character. It was difficult to judge because Kutcher's character was a man who was depressed and in fact suicidal, so his energy level, his effort in fact, would have to be less than Cryer's, but even in the following episode, I still never bought Kutcher as that character. By the fact that he's naked at the end of the premiere, it leads me to think that he's only there for his looks.

This potentially makes for a good foil for Cryer, not unlike Sheen apparently was. The show was well written in terms of its setups and punchlines. Some of them made me laugh and are generally amusing, but the limitations and boundaries are very evident.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit sent some shock waves when it was announced that Christopher Meloni would not be coming back for the show's 13th season. His exit wasn't that much of a shocker. Rumor of his departure came in 2010, a full year and a half prior. The show disquieted those rumors, but seems like they came to be true. What Meloni meant on that show and to television in general is something I expressed last year in an article, which you can read here:

Considering all that Meloni meant, there was no way that the producers of the show could go the Bewitched route and replace the actor. Considering all that, there's also no way that the producers could have gone the way of Good Times and had his character killed off. What they did was what the producers of the original Law & Order series did on several occasions.

The 13th season kicked off with an episode that was a take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, which made the news this past May. The episode actually did a really great job of exposing the problems of rape that women face in the Sudan. It again represented that the show is about the cases and its victims, rather than the cops.

Yet, Meloni's absence had to be addressed. You can't have an integral character like that for 12 years suddenly disappear and have no mention of it. Mariska Hargitay who played Detective Olivia Benson took his absence the hardest. Her character wasn't even kept abreast of what was happening. She finally got the news that Meloni's character wasn't returning because his Detective Elliot Stabler had quit the force due to the fallout of a perceived, bad shooting. Whereas no one on Two and a Half Men shed tears at Charlie's funeral, Benson broke down and wept when she learned Stabler wasn't dead but never working with her again.

Throughout the show's dozen-year run, it was speculated that Benson and Stabler might become a romantic item. The chemistry and the passion between the two of them was there. The tension was there, but Stabler's

Filling the void are two new detectives. The first is Detective Amanda Rollins, played by Kelli Giddish. Giddish starred on the short-lived, NBC series Chase, which was canceled last spring. Giddish played a U.S. Marshal so she fits right in here nicely. Giddish also has a recurring role in The Good Wife, as a bisexual private investigator. Danny Pino also joins the cast as Detective Nick Amaro. Pino recently came off the CBS series Cold Case, which ran for seven seasons, finally getting canceled this past spring as well.

It remains to be seen how these two pair together. While both are good and good-looking actors, I haven't felt any kind of fire between the two. Despite Pino who gave an amazing performance on The Shield, the two don't come close to being as gravitational a force as Meloni was.

The Office said goodbye to its star, Steve Carell, who was the lead on that show for seven years. Unlike Sheen and Meloni who basically just vanished from their respective TV shows, Carell's character Michael Scott got a proper sendoff. Pretty much the entire second half of Carell's last season was dedicated to his leaving. Arguably, it got very sentimental and sappy, even resulting in a song sung in his honor in the form of "Seasons of Love" from the Broadway musical Rent.

The last episode even teased the audience about who might takeover once Carell left. Probably because the producers of the show had time to prepare is probably why I feel like this show handled the loss of its male lead the best. The choices that they made were surprising and interesting. I think that in many ways Carell's leaving has invigorated the show. When you're dealing with shows that have been going for this long, invigorating them is what you want and need. The Office may not be fresh, but this change makes it feel like it is.

Even though James Spader essentially took the place of Carell, his character of Robert California actually replaces the character that Kathy Bates played. Fans of the show will know what role that was. Instead of hiring a new actor to take the actual place of Carell's character, what happened is they shifted around a character who was already a part of the cast. Ed Helms' Andy Bernard was moved up and the result was inspired. Given Helms' recent performance in Cedar Rapids, this was a move that I loved.

Two and a Half Men.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Mondays at 9PM on CBS.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on NBC.

The Office.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Thursdays at 9PM on NBC.


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