After the split of Charlie Sheen from one of the biggest hit sitcoms of the last decade, viewers had spent most of 2011 speculating on how (or if) the ninth season would go forward. Tonight, the anticipation ended, and we finally got to see how Ashton Kutcher would mesh with the rest of the ensemble. After one episode, it’s hard to say with certainty, but his character, Walden Schmidt, is both charming and original, and most importantly, he maintains the essence of what the Alan Harper character needs as a foil.
The pre-credit scene is Charlie Harper’s funeral, where we see most of Charlie’s former flames waiting for a chance to spit on the body. His brother Alan makes a valiant effort to keep the tone positive, but he’s also contending with the awkward presence of Charlie’s pharmacist (Martin Mull) looking to collect on a huge tab and their mother, Evelyn, shamelessly using her mother’s grief moment to hawk Charlie’s beach house (which will clearly have to be sold—as Alan cannot afford the payments). We learn that Rose is the grieving bride, who apparently married Charlie in Europe (where they impulsively went in the final episode of last season), then caught him cheating, and finally “witnessed” his death by a train only one short day later. The implication is pretty clear; it’s also not too surprising that Charlie would come to this kind of end. Berta provides the most apt quote: “Never cross a crazy woman.”
Back at the house, prospective buyers come by—providing more cameo opportunities. These include John Stamos (an obvious nod to the speculation that he would replace Sheen on the show) and Jenna Elfman, who comes down the stairs with her former co-star, Thomas Gibson, from Dharma and Greg (another Chuck Lorre show), in an obvious nod to their old characters.
Later, Alan has a surprisingly tender moment with the urn containing Charlie’s ashes. The combination of Alan’s appreciation and resentment of Charlie melts away as he lets go of the anger, giving both Alan and (symbolically) the viewers a chance for a happy goodbye. And just when you think that the scene may go out on a serious note, Alan is startled by someone on the porch looking in the rear door, frightening him and causing him to spill Charlie’s ashes unceremoniously all over the floor.
The character of Walden Schmidt (Kutcher) is introduced after an unsuccessful suicide attempt in the ocean. Alan is his usual helpful self, trying to talk up Walden’s self-esteem, after which he learns that Walden is extremely well-endowed (in terms of money and…well…). After taking him out to a bar to cheer him up, Alan watches Walden manage to pick up two women with the worst kind of pick-up line (crying about the loss of his ex-wife), making him wonder if he has again paired himself with another person who can seemingly do no wrong.
By the end of the episode, it hasn’t clearly been established that Walden is here to stay (but we know that Kutcher is signed for the whole season). However, his appearance has seemed to cement two interesting points to watch unfold throughout the season. First, he is a VERY different character from Charlie (much less self-absorbed and narcissistic…though Walden isn’t necessarily the polar opposite of these qualities either). Second, he does preserve the most important element that the Charlie Harper character provided for the show: an ability to trigger both affection and irritation from Alan.
It should be fun to see how that relationship develops.