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Kathy Bates spirits 'Two and a Half Men'

Academy Award winner Kathy Bates guest stars as

Academy Award winner Kathy Bates guest stars as Charlie on "Two and a Half Men." Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment

THE SHOW "Two and a Half Men"

WHEN | WHERE Tonight at 9 on CBS/2

REASON TO WATCH Charlie Harper returns -- sort of -- in the form of Kathy Bates.

CATCHING UP As fans know, Alan (Jon Cryer) had a particularly rough week after he had to leave the Malibu beach house because Walden (Ashton Kutcher) asked his girlfriend, Zoey (Sophie Winkleman), to spend that week at the house with her daughter. Alan bunked at Lyndsey's (Courtney Thorne-Smith), where he nearly electrocuted himself and broke his nose.

Tonight, Alan is very happy to be back home, until he gets this sobering news: Maybe Zoey will be sticking around. Under great stress, he has a medical emergency and goes to the hospital, where -- in a morphine-induced state -- he sees a ghost. It's Charlie (Kathy Bates), up from hell, with a message for his brother: "Step up! Be a man! Grow a . . . " Well, you can imagine what Charlie tells Alan to grow.

MY SAY Around this time last year, the world's media were busily cataloging Charlie Sheen's latest fevered -- and largely crazy -- declarations about "Two and a Half Men," its creator, Chuck Lorre, and CBS. (Sheen had been fired from the show for "breach of contract.") It had all turned into a grisly spectator sport. Amusing or disturbing? Who knew! But Lorre largely kept his tongue, and few knew how he really felt about Sheen.

Tonight, we possibly have our final answer. The deployment of Bates as Charlie is both inspired and very nearly divine comic intervention. She's a shot in the arm -- or a kick in the behind -- for an aging franchise that (let's admit) hasn't exactly been set aflame by Kutcher.

As the foul-mouthed lecherous Charlie Harper with a keen eye for the absurdities of male genitalia, Bates will actually remind fans what they miss most about this show: Sheen. In that sense, this stand-in is very nearly homage to Charlie Harper and Charlie Sheen. Could Bates as his ghost turn into a regular? "Men" has had a long line of funny women -- Conchata Ferrell, Holland Taylor, Marin Hinkle, Jane Lynch -- and there's no reason Bates shouldn't be one of them.

BOTTOM LINE Lewd, crude and rude -- also funny -- Bates should think about a reprise. Let's hope she does.

GRADE B+

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