Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.
If the opportunity had arisen, I'd have liked to say to Ashton Kutcher, "I've met Charlie Sheen and you're no Charlie Sheen."
It's true, and viewers of Two and a Half Men know it, too, because the show is a lot less funny with Kutcher's character, Walden Schmidt, replacing the Sheen character on the series. Kutcher and the Men cast, Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones, along with co-creator Chuck Lorre, met critics here today. The buzz, such as it was, concerned Kutcher's look.
Gone are the beard and shaggy hair that have helped define the Walden character as a dopey, clueless guy on the show. Kutcher was strikingly clear cut. Apparently it has to do with a storyline.
But here's the odd thing – while Charlie Sheen looked a bit creepy and dilapidated the other night, there was also something cold and off-putting about Kutcher and his demeanour. Not just the look, but the whole package of calculated wariness.
Mostly, it seems, what concerns Kutcher – who has fingers in many pies as a producer in movie, TV and online deals – was his contract deal with Two and a Half Men. Asked if he will return next season, he said, "The deal we structured was a test deal. The show is outperforming the numbers from before I was here. I think people are responding to it. For me, having a show that people like and want more of – that'll dictate my decision. I have a couple of features I'm going to do in the summer. Right now, I'm looking at [the summer] as a hiatus. I'm interested in coming back."
That's "interested," not committed to the series.
Kutcher was also asked about his business sense, his "entrepreneur" side it was called. His answer was very revealing.
"Business? I was a biochemical engineering major in college, and I've always sort of stayed up with technology. And about six years ago I did a digital content deal with AOL, kind of right as buffering was getting to the point where you didn't have to wait for 20 minutes to watch a video online. And I just continued to pursue that and forged relationships. And so I have my production company for film, television, and digital media. And then we have an extension of that that's a social-media marketing company. And then I have an investment fund that I run for technology investments. So I don't know where the aptitude for that stuff came from. I think I just have an appetite for it and just follow my passions and interests."
Indeed. His "passions and interests" seem to relate to business deals, not acting and not comedy. Say what you like about Charlie Sheen, but he's an actor. His "passions and interests" may have taken him down dark and dangerous alleys, but he was always fun to watch on Two and a Half Men. He played his role with real gusto. Not as if it were a calculated business deal.
Sheen's presence at the press conference was ghost-like but palpable. Asked about the man who had poured scorn on him, Chuck Lorre said of Sheen, "I wish him well, I'm glad he's sober and happy now."
That's gracious, but the show sucks now. Clean-cut or hirsute, Kutcher doesn't cut it.