As Chuck Lorre saw it, there was simply no getting around the shadow that Charlie Sheen cast on the “Two and a Half Men” finale. So they decided to go for it in the biggest, ballsiest and at times most bizarre ways they could think of to bring some closure to things that happened on and off the screen.
And yes, Lorre assures that he meant what he wrote in his final “Men” vanity card. Sheen, who was fired in 2011 after savaging the show and Lorre in a spectacularly public meltdown, rejected an offer to make an appearance at the end of the episode.
On Thursday evening, as the hourlong swan song of “Men” aired in most of the country, Lorre was busy working on a new episode of his latest CBS comedy, “Mom.” Lorre spoke with Variety as he drove home from the Warner Bros. lot about the unconventional choices made for the “Men” finale, “Of Course He’s Dead, Parts 1 and 2.”
Variety: Now that the finale has aired, how do you feel?
Chuck Lorre: I’m pretty excited. I’ve been told my (ChuckLorre.com) website crashed so that’s pretty good news.
Are you happy with the episode?
Lorre: It’s tough. I’m a little close to it.We worked really hard, me and (writers) Lee (Aronsohn) and Don (Reo) and Jim (Patterson) and the whole writing staff. We wanted to go out guns blazing and put on a show that represented the extremely undignified 12 years of ‘Two and a Half Men.”
The episode is rife with references to all of the drama that surrounded Sheen off screen, particularly the outbursts that led to his firing. What made you decide to incorporate so much of that history?
Lorre: We thought it would be impossible to do a finale that tried to be oblivious to the meta elements around the show, all the tabloid elements that have swirled around the show over the years. There was no getting around it, and we also wanted to honor these last four years with Ashton (Kutcher) in a satisfying way. So there was a lot going on. But our primary concern at all times was let’s put on a funny show and not leave anything on the table.
You wrote in the final “Men” vanity card that Sheen was in fact offered to appear in the finale at the end. That was true?
Lorre: That was absolutely true. I made a decision a month or so ago that there was so much demand, so much excitement about seeing Charlie come back for the finale that it was the right thing to do to try to come up with something we could have fun with, to poke fun at all the craziness. It was presented to him. He didn’t like it. And we weren’t excited about what he wanted to do. So it didn’t go forward.
Were you disappointed that he didn’t agree to do it?
Lorre: Yeah. I think it would have been a really cool way to end the finale, to give him a real featured moment to talk straight to the camera, to do his thing and blow the whole thing up at the end. It wasn’t meant to be.
Have you spoken to him directly since the craziness erupted in late 2010-early 2011?
Lorre: No, I have not.
So the offer for his role in the finale was presented through intermediaries?
In the closing moments, a piano drops on Charlie Harper, who we see only from behind, and then a second piano drops on you, a split second after you grin and say “Winning,” another nod to Sheen’s famous rants. Why did you decide to put yourself in that scene?
Lorre: It just felt like comedically the right thing to do. It’s like ‘Nobody gets out of here alive’ may be the theme of this series. The proposition that anybody wins in something like this is ridiculous. That would have felt uncomfortable to me. So the second piano felt like the right thing to do.
The animated segment in the first half was also quite a surprise.
Lorre: We started working on the animation piece a couple of months ago. We worked with an outside company on that. The lead animator did a terrific job of coming up with those caricatures….There was no other way that we were possibly going to tell the story in the finale in real time with real people. It seemed like if we had the time and the budget to do an animated version of the story we might as well go for it. It also opened up the opportunity to have fun with animation. You get to see Pepe Le Pew — you’re not going to get that in anything but animation.
The segment ends with Porky Pig delivering a “That’s All Folks” and a flash of the Warner Bros. shield. Was that simply a nod to your studio home?
Lorre: You can’t do Porky Pig’s ‘duh buh duh buh duh’ without showing the Warner Bros. shield. We put Porky in a bra and panties. It’s ‘Two and a Half Men’ so we did add our touch to it.
Did you have to get the studio’s blessing to use the character?
Lorre: It was very complicated to get the Looney Tunes character and the music — it’s not all necessarily owned by Warner Bros. anymore. A lot of it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. So we had to do a variation on that (Looney Tunes) theme.
The return of Angus T. Jones as Jake was also a surprise, after the not-so-kind comments he made about the show before leaving in 2012.
Lorre: If we had actually aired the audience response to when Angus stepped on the stage — it was so loud and exuberant. We had to tone it down for the broadcast. They were so excited to see him — it went on and on. …That’s all water under the bridge. He apologized shortly after (his comments). We’re on good terms. We reached out to him he was eager and excited to do it. It was like old times — except that he’s not eight years old any more. But we had so much fun with him all week.
What about the other guest shots — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christian Slater, John Stamos, among them. What went into your thinking in casting those roles?
Lorre: We were looking for the right kind of persona. We knew we wanted somebody who had real crime-fighting credentials to tell the story of the series in as dry and as matter-of-fact a way as possible. The opportunity came up to work with Gov. Schwarzenegger and it was one of the most fun days I’ve ever had in my career. We had a blast shooting those scenes. The same thing happened with Christian Slater. He jumped in enthusiastically, it was as much fun as I’ve ever had on a soundstage working with those two guys, and John Stamos — everybody came and had a really good time. And they didn’t really know what they were doing in the big scheme of things. There was just a great deal of fun and enthusiasm with those guest-starring roles. It took two weeks to shoot.
Did you have an idea for what the finale of “Men” would have been before the furor with Sheen happened?
Lorre: We talked about the tearful sendoff of Jake to college. That was our very naive idea of what the ending of the show would be. We never in a million years would have imagined what we just did. We had a much smaller vision at the time. The show has changed dramatically over 12 years. I think the finale accomplished all of that, I hope.
You have been vocal about how “Men” was the show that laid the foundation for the rest of your success with “The Big Bang Theory,” “Mike and Molly” and now “Mom.” Is it hard for you to see it end tonight?
Lorre: It got very emotional at times during the two weeks (of filming). Every now and then it would hit you — this is the last one.
(Pictured: Chuck Lorre flanked by “Men” stars Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer)