Not to put any additional pressure on “Two and a Half Men,” but if it doesn’t work, someone at Warner Bros. is going to need at least 2½ Advil. That’s because the series is the first from producer Chuck Lorre since the studio signed him to a megabuck deal a few years back, and it’s landed CBS’ best new-sitcom slot — a hammocked half-hour where even the dreary “Still Standing” managed to earn a second season. The good news is that “Men” offers the sort of breezy diversion that should perform solidly, assuming that Fox’s new porn industry drama “Skin” doesn’t strip away too much of its audience.
Lorre landed at Warner Bros. with a rich overall deal after generating such hits as “Cybill” and “Grace Under Fire,” but his first few stabs at birthing another cash machine didn’t escape the womb — among them the intriguing premise “Nathan’s Choice,” which would have featured alternative endings with each rerun.
By comparison, “Two and a Half Men” hardly qualifies as groundbreaking, but it’s smooth and self-assured in its “Odd Couple” milieu, with two mismatched brothers (one with a 10-year-old son) thrown together as awkward roommates.
Charlie Sheen plays Charlie, a womanizing jingle writer living the bachelor life at his beach house, only to have the persnickety Alan (Jon Cryer) turn up uninvited, his marriage in a shambles. Alan remains in denial about the prospects of a reconciliation, while Charlie takes the young boy (Angus T. Jones of “Bringing Down the House”) under his wing — which means teaching him to play poker while learning that having him around is a great way to pick up women. “You’re better than a dog,” Charlie marvels after a brief encounter in the supermarket.
Under James Burrows’ always-capable direction, Lorre and co-creator Lee Aronsohn have the rhythms of these characters down, including an underused (in the pilot, anyway) Holland Taylor as the family’s domineering matriarch. They also seem to realize that even if Charlie starts to warm toward the kid, having fuzzy after-school special moments between them isn’t the way to go.
Passable as a substitute for Michael J. Fox in “Spin City,” Sheen’s comedic depth doesn’t extend much further than his role in the “Hot Shots!” movies, but fortunately, that’s about all that’s required. Cryer has the more challenging part in humanizing the tightly wound Alan, while Jones registers about a 7 on the cute and precocious sitcom kid meter. Less effective is a crazed fling of Charlie’s (Melanie Lynskey) who keeps breaking into his house — the kind of gag that figures to grow stale awfully fast.
As the meat in an “Everybody Loves Raymond”-“CSI: Miami” sandwich, “Two and a Half Men” finds itself in one of those positions where the audience is pretty much its to lose. On the plus side for CBS, the show is better than other Monday-night comedies that have fared reasonably well and should provide viewers little incentive to reach for the remote, or even clap the set off.
Tech credits are fine, though score this as another one of those sitcom “beach houses” that gives off a stronger smell of Burbank back lot than salt water and sea air.