A Cautionary Tale

This is a friendly reminder. Keep it in mind as you are going through your day that you are surrounded by people who think that Two and a Half Men is very funny. There’s a good chance it’s the guy at the bank. Look to your left: it might be the guy pushing quarters into the parking meter, heaving a sigh as he enters a clothing shop. Look at the men working under the scaffolding. It’s probably many of them. Do the others know? Have they ever thought, as they sat down to dine, that they broke their fast with men who thought Charlie Sheen was hilarious? Think about the person who delivers your mail. It might be their favorite show.

How many people do you think it is? At its peak, the show had 15 million viewers, a substantial fraction of the population. How many houses, do you think, are clogged in the night with bodies, the eyes of which watch Two and a Half Men? They’re all around you. You might even love them. You don’t know what the television plays in your house when you’re not around. You don’t know what Hulu programming causes your most trusted friends’ laptop screens to glow in the night. Listen to the night. Every ring of laughter could be because of Two and a Half Men.

Picture them. They sit down. Beer undoubtedly in hand, they unbuckle their belt and push their backs into their leather couch. They stick their hand comfortably down their pants and watch the following scene.

Jon Cryer’s character, the doctor, lays his head on the kitchen table. Charlie Sheen enters, quipping, “if you know what I did last night, you wouldn’t put your head on that table.” Picture their pudgy faces tightening as laughter overcomes them, as their brains clunk the two puzzle pieces together: “It’s like sex!” If you listen closely to the show’s audio you might even hear the minds grind. Picture their jowls rocking with mirth. It’s hilarious: the Live Studio Audienceā„¢ shouts with laughter. Pleasure centers are alight.

Someone had to write that. A group of professional writers, paid more than you or I, sat together, comfortable in the leather office chairs Warner Brothers could no doubt afford them. Listen to those chairs squeak. They turn away lazily from their view of Downtown Los Angeles. At a desk, they moved through the script, and were satisfied. “That’s exactly where that joke should go,” they thought. Onto the next few lines. The cleaning lady walks in. “What did you do on the table?” the doctor asks, jumping away from it. It’s repetition! Don’t you see, they went back to the same joke again! The actors must be silent for a few beats as the audience quiets itself of its ensuing uproar at that one. Genius. They smile at each other.

 

Scene.

 

-AJ ’15

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