'Two and a Half Men's' Chuck Lorre: Finale Will "Acknowledge Everything We've Been Through"

The prolific producer talks with THR about bringing his veteran CBS comedy — which he describes as "two different shows" — to an end.
CBS

Over the past 12 seasons, CBS' Two and a Half Men has been many things: A Charlie Sheen vehicle; a series that pushed boundaries on network television; a comedy shrouded in controversy; Ashton Kutcher's comeback; and original star Jon Cryer's masterpiece.

On Feb. 19, Men comes to an end with an hourlong episode titled "Of Course He's Dead," a nod to speculation that its former star, Sheen, could return to his old stomping grounds for the first time since he was publicly fired in March 2011.

Men co-creator Chuck Lorre — who also juggles CBS' The Big Bang Theory, Mom and Mike & Molly — has remained tight-lipped on a potential Sheen return, revealing only that fans can expect a "mystery sandwich" in the final episode. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Lorre to discuss the challenge of crafting a series finale 12 seasons in the making, working with his star-studded casts and his infamous vanity cards.

See more Saying Goodbye: TV Shows Signing Off in 2014-15

What was the biggest challenge in crafting the finale? There's so much pressure to get it right.

The show has been many things over 12 years; it’s really two shows if you think about it. There were eight years with Charlie Sheen and four years with Ashton Kutcher. They’re very different — a different energy and dynamic. The show, for better or worse, has a great deal of scandal attached to it. There’s no getting away from it. It’s part of the DNA of the show. I wanted the finale to take it all in and not ignore any of those elements.

CBS issued a press release that played up the question of whether Sheen will return. Is that part of taking it all in?

Take it for what it is. It’s a big hour, a lot of stuff happens. There are a lot of surprises in it, and we had a blast making it. It was an attempt to just take it all in and make the finale acknowledge everything that we’ve been through and everything that people have come to expect from the show.

How do you service both of the two versions of Men?

It was a judgment call. I’m just guessing as to what’s a good story and what’s funny. There are so many expectations that come along with a series finale that you can’t possibly satisfy expectations. Get too caught up in that and you’ll probably just have brain freeze. I think we came up with a very interesting mystery that drives the finale and there are a tremendous amount of surprises along the way. The goal was always go big or go home. Do it. Let’s go for it. Don’t watch the budget. We can’t get canceled because we’re done. There’s nothing we can do in the episode to win over people who don’t like the show, we don’t have to worry about that. So let’s just try and put on a show that’s gratifying to the people that have stayed with us.

Were you aiming to take the show full circle with the addition of young Louis (Edan Alexander) in the final season?

Yes. We decided to do that last summer, we started talking about how could we make the last season almost the finale in and of itself. Since we knew this was our last season, we thought of the last episodes as an arc, as a path back to where we started. Which was how do two men impact on a young boy? How do two men with the best of intentions write on that blank slate?

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Comedy is hard for broadcast networks. What makes yours successful?

I don’t know. I know what I’m trying to do; I’m trying to create characters and relationships that people care about. I’ve been very fortunate with some incredible casts. So write for them. Let them act. Give them an opportunity to do what they do.

You have a deal that includes cable — how would Men have been different there?

We probably wouldn’t have done it in front of a studio audience, so the nature of it, the rhythm of it and the whole flow of it would change dramatically. But sometimes, oddly enough, the restrictions of working in network television are the reasons the show is perceived as edgy. It was only considered edgy and vulgar in that small world it was in. If you moved it over to HBO it was milquetoast. People were f—ing their sisters on Game of Thrones! It’s not like we were doing such terrible things on Two and a Half Men.

Would Alan have been a darker character?

Alan (Cryer) was always designed, from the get-go to be kind of the biblical Job. The good man who is trying his best and can’t catch a break. And the character has morphed over the years and become much broader. But in the initial inception anyway he was Job and Charlie was Dionysus, the God of wine and women and debauchery. Those were two real, very specific archetypes that [co-creator] Lee Aronsohn and I discussed when we started the show. It’s hard to talk about this without laughing out loud, but we were reading like Jungian books about archetypes while we were writing the pilot. You think we might have come up with something more sophisticated than Two and a Half Men. But we were looking at how two different men with different lifestyles, takes on relationships and love and sex and family, how they live their lives and how they would impact on a young boy. We’ve strayed far, far from that lofty goal. No question. But they were lofty conversations that led to all that vulgarity.

Now that you're down to three shows, are you satisfied with that number? Or are you looking for more?

I have no aspirations. I’m quite content. I love what we’re doing with Mom. It’s been a real great experience to try and expand the vocabulary of what a sitcom can do, maybe expanding it back to what it once was, many years ago with All in the Family and Maude. We’re not inventing anything new, but perhaps … it seems like an opportunity now because it’s not being done. These stories aren’t being told in this genre, in this small world where there’s a couch and a kitchen and an audience. It’s a very tightly controlled environment with great limitations on what you can do. But there are lots of stories to tell that I’ve never had a chance to do before. So we’re really grateful for that.

Read more 'Two and a Half Men' Producers Deny Charlie Sheen's Return

Did you look to any other series finales as inspiration?

I’ve seen most of the series finales like everyone else. They’re always in the back of your mind. You’re probably going to get roasted alive for whatever you do. But that being said, you have to do something, and we did everything we could to make a finale worth watching.

What steps did the team go through to make sure the finale wouldn’t be spoiled?

We had watermarks on the scripts and we only issued pages that guest actors were in instead of the whole thing. Confidentiality agreements. We went through all the rigmaroles as if this was a J.J. Abrams Star Wars movie.

Have you written your last Men vanity card?

I plan on writing it, but I have not written it yet. It’s one I have to take some time and think about, because … I have no idea. You can’t actually cry on a vanity card, so crying is out of the question. You can imply crying — because there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up with ending a family this big for so long and saying goodbye to a lot of people. But, I don’t know. Unlikely I’ll be morose. Mundane maybe, but not morose.

Two and a Half Men wraps Thursday, Feb. 19 on CBS.

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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