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Ashton Kutcher shows flair, flesh in ‘Two and a Half Men’ debut


Ashton Kutcher

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Updated: November 10, 2011 1:57PM

Ashton Kutcher’s scruffy beard and long brown locks make him look a bit like Jesus — a fitting image, since “Two and a Half Men’s” producers are hoping they’ve found a savior for their top-rated comedy.

Kutcher made his return to the sitcom world Monday on one of the most anticipated premieres of the season. He replaced the hot mess that was Charlie Sheen, whose real-life downward spiral landed him a pink slip in March and put the program’s future in jeopardy.

Monday’s opener got off to a surprisingly good start, considering it took place in a funeral home. Penis and fart jokes are one thing — and the first episode made it clear the show intends to keep cranking those out. But death is a tougher sell, even before a studio audience full of fans.

The episode began with Charlie’s trademark bowling shirt hanging by his closed casket. We learned that he’d run away to Paris with his true love/stalker Rose, but she caught him in the shower with another woman. Charlie ended up slipping on the Metro platform (read: Rose murdered him) and “his body just exploded like a balloon full of meat,” Rose said.

Charlie’s brother Alan (Jon Cryer) tried his best to deliver a eulogy, talking about how “giving” his sibling was. But Charlie’s former conquests kept interrupting with the names of various STDs they “got” from the deceased. Charlie’s own mother interrupted her half-hearted grieving to remind everyone that her dead son’s Malibu pad is for sale and there will be an open house over the weekend.

Making fun of a dead guy — even a dead guy who’s been with the show for eight long seasons — is exactly the kind of impudence viewers have come to expect from “Two and a Half Men.”

Monday’s episode gave them that taste of the familiar along with a new flavor in the form of a tall, good-looking, often naked Kutcher, whose propensity to bare all is bound to pick up a few female viewers.

Kutcher plays Walden Schmidt, a lonely Internet billionaire who’s devastated by the breakup of his marriage. So devastated, he tries to kill himself in the ocean, “but the water was too cold.”

Walden and Alan become friends, and the groundwork is set for Walden to move in and take Charlie’s place.

The lead actor switcheroo is a trend audiences should get used to, because they’re going to see a lot of it this week. Several of broadcast network’s longest-running hit shows are starting their new seasons with fresh faces. Ted Danson takes the reins from Laurence Fishburne on Wednesday’s season premiere of “CSI,” the same day Danny Pino (“Cold Case”) replaces “Law & Order: SVU” veteran Christopher Meloni. Over at Dunder Mifflin, James Spader on Thursday will attempt to fill Steve Carell’s shoes on “The Office.”

Filling the void left by a well established character isn’t easy, but Kutcher mostly succeeded. At times his character seemed a bit like Lennie petting the rabbits in “Of Mice and Men,” but give him a few episodes, and he should settle in nicely.

After eight long seasons, the show might end up being better off with some new blood — of the non-tiger variety.

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