Oddballs stumble into relationship insights
Are these guys even worth going to for relationship insight? There’s Charlie (who bounces from woman to woman to woman) and his straight-laced brother Alan (often unlucky at love), or Leonard and Sheldon (a pair of brainy but socially inept science nerds).
It’s safe to say the ideal male-female relationship model — if there ever was one — lacks any of those characters. But that doesn’t matter to Chuck Lorre, executive producer of “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
“Who’s to say what’s normal?” he asks. “It’s a preposterous premise. I guess you could try and find out what’s normal with statistics, but in certain cultures that are so male-dominated, what’s normal there we would view as nuts.”
So the veteran showrunner has every reason to add two of his comedic takes on relationships to the conversation every Monday night on CBS.
“There isn’t anything new about the randy playboy or the shy nerd — they’re the stock characters of romantic comedy,” says USA Today critic Robert Bianco. “It’s the different spins that these writers and performers put on them (that attract viewers).”
Lorre took the two men of “Two and a Half Men” and made them frightened of every woman in their lives. Charlie (Charlie Sheen) and Alan (Jon Cryer) cope with those feelings differently — one runs from just about every woman after he sleeps with her, while the other is a divorced dad who’s desperate for lasting love.
“The characters grew up with a toxic mom and no healthy understanding of what they actually need in their relationships,” says Cryer. “What’s weird is they’ve figured that out, but they haven’t figured out how to fix it.”
For “Big Bang,” Lorre and co-creator Bill Prady developed characters who can calculate pi to 80 decimals in their heads but stumble when it comes to knowing what to say to a pretty woman — such as Penny (Kaley Cuoco), a waiting-tables actress who lives next door to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki).
“They’re a rare breed of men that I haven’t experienced before,” says Cuoco, whose character has been helping the geeks develop their social skills.
Populating both worlds with the right mix of personalities is key to the success of each show, says Lorre. “People connect with a show because they care about the characters — first and foremost. Then you have to follow it up with legitimately funny material.”
Also important is leading the characters down a believable path. For example, after several years’ worth of one-night stands, Charlie recently started looking for more in a relationship.
“We’ve had a great deal of fun with the lounge lizard who goes after women of slim intellect,” Lorre says. “But now it feels like a natural step for the series and the character for him to reach for something more. And because he doesn’t have the proper tools for maintaining a relationship, his efforts should hopefully be worth watching.”
The “Big Bang” guys are evolving, too. Leonard developed an infatuation with Penny, which led to a date and culminated with a kiss in the first-season finale, before backing away from romance this year.
“They’ve been together as a couple for half a second and then realized that it’s not right, (but) maybe it will be later,” Cuoco says. “They still have that deep connection, but they also have a friendship that’s important as well.
“It was an uphill battle for Penny to get in with this group,” Cuoco adds. “Not that she needed to be in it for her own self-esteem, but she genuinely likes these guys and just wanted to be around them.”
How the relationships on “Two and a Half Men” and “Big Bang Theory” will progress is anybody’s guess. Even Lorre doesn’t know.
“There’s no great master plan,” he says. “It’s kind of like walking around in a room in the dark, trying not to bump into a wall or the furniture, and still make something happen. We’ve got to be able to tolerate not knowing and walk forward anyway.”