What's more important in a sitcom, imagination or execution? If you prize originality, this new series will underwhelm you. It's basically The Odd Couple with a kid. Jingle writer Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen, who also played a Charlie in Spin City) is a swinging-bachelor sort casually ensconced in his Southern California beach house. Suddenly Charlie is giving shelter to his brother Alan (Jon Cryer), a fussy chiropractor, and Jake (Angus T. Jones), Alan's 10-year-old son. Like Felix Unger in the old days, Alan was thrown out by his wife, Judith (Marin Hinkle), although Judith's thoughts of turning lesbian do give the show a contemporary touch. Charlie tolerates Alan at his pad rather than see him move in with their controlling mother, Evelyn (a typically sharp-tongued and snooty Holland Taylor, on the rebound from Baby Bob). Besides, Charlie is growing fond of Jake. They've already had the nephew-uncle conversation legally required in all family sitcoms:
"I wish my dad was as cool as you."
"Don't sell your dad short. He loves you more than anything in the world."
All right, Two and a Half Men is trite in too many ways. What's surprising is the goodly number of laughs it does offer. Cryer may overdo the fast-talking, hand-wringing, Woody Allenish business in the opener, but in the second episode his timing emerges as the show's biggest asset. He deserves to break his sitcom losing streak (last setback: ABC's The Trouble with Normal). Sheen seems sluggish at times and manages only minimal conviction when his character is supposed to be angry. Still, he plays off Cryer capably and delivers his share of the punch lines with some assurance. The nice thing about Jones is that he eschews cute-kid mugging. But if he doesn't start showing a little more expression, we'll wonder if the boy's having any fun.