Here's a reasonably safe assumption about Ashton Kutcher's first outing on "Two and a Half Men" last night: If you never watched the show before, or watched it and dismissed it, then there was nothing here to make you change your mind.
The long-term fan? There's the rub. He/she saw/heard a couple of things that were probably welcome. The raunch. The babes. The fart jokes. The sex-is-the-highest-and-only-good ethos. But then, who was this new guy?
Kutcher's new character, Walden Schmidt, seems like a carefully drawn alternate-universe caricature of Charlie Harper. Foremost that beard -- something Charlie would never have had. The klutzy gentle persona. The utter cluelessness, about women or other people's motives. He stumbles into good fortune without even knowing -- his billion; the women at the bar who were charmed by his destitution and loyalty to his ex. Mostly, he appears loyal to one woman -- the woman who ditched him (played a bit later by Judy Greer.)
Who is this guy? It's Alan, of course -- when he first stumbled into Charlie's house after Judith -- Marin Hinkle -- dumped him for another woman. Chuck Lorre, in other words, has started right back where he started from.
What's the problem with that? Alan -- Cryer -- is still fundamentally the same guy. Yes, Charlie corrupted and debauched him over eight seasons, but his basic personality remained the same. So, now: "2.5 Men" has two Alans and one Jake. That means this is a different show, with a different energy -- or potentially a different one.
The whole rhythm of this show went to the beat of Alan and Charlie -- Alan forever appalled by the depths of Charlie's depravity, and Charlie forever serving one-liners -- a number of them admittedly funny -- in response. Yeah, it was getting tired, but that was the show.
Kutcher -- who's kind of channeling a spacey adult Michael Falco -- did not serve a single one-liner last night, except unintentionally. He's -- don't forget -- the clueless one who doesn't even know of his considerable sexual prowess. Alan. meanwhile, has turned into the quipster who mugs for the camera when Walden says something dumb. Ha ha! Tables are turned now!
So, we'll see where this goes. Last night was neither terrible, nor good. It just was. Another sitcom in a vast mostly undifferentiated sea of 'em. Some fans probably hated it; some are probably willing to give it time. Meanwhile the show does need a new name because this is no longer "Two and a Half Men."