Charlie Sheen-Less 'Two and a Half Men': What the Critics Are Saying

 Courtesy TV Guide

Call it Two and a Half Men: Version 2.0.

The CBS comedy returned Monday night for its ninth season without original star Charlie Sheen -- who was fired in March -- but with a new cast member, Ashton Kutcher, who joined the cast in May.

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Sheen's character, Charlie Harper, was killed off after being pushed in front of a subway train by Rose (Melanie Lynskey), his stalker/neighbor with whom he'd run off to Paris. But she got revenge after learning he'd been with another woman. The episode started off with his funeral, and the actor did not appear.

Meanwhile, Kutcher's Walden Schmidt, a heartbroken Internet billionaire, shows up after a suicide attempt and ends up buying Harper's former home.

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The episode was not available for review before it aired, so many critics' takes hit the Web late Monday.

USA Today's Robert Bianco praised Kutcher and co-star Jon Cryer for their ability to "make repeated references to Walden's sexual organs and still seem sweet together."

He added that the show was in need of a change before Sheen got fired for his public rants against his then-bosses on the show.

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"Change is always hard, but in this case change was both unavoidable and for the best," he wrote. "Even if there had been a way to refresh Sheen's Charlie Harper character, who was veering perilously close to 'one old joke' status, Sheen did not appear to be up to the task. He looked too drawn to be the energetic, magnetic Goodtime Charlie the role required, and he seemed too tired and, perhaps, unprepared to give the show his best — which pushed too much of the comic load last season on to Cryer's Alan."

He added that Kutcher brings new energy to the long-running comedy.

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"What fans have to hope Kutcher brings to the mix, aside from a new character, is a new energy and a better balance," he wrote. "And if the constant screams from the studio audience are any indication, he has a lot of fans. They and the show seem to be in decent hands."

Hank Steuver of the Washington Post opined that the show has never featured any "complicated story lines" and that Kutcher "demonstrated just how uncomplicated it is."

Two and a Half Men is never too funny, never too odd, never too naughty," he wrote. "Again, this is why it’s on in hospital lounges and the waiting room at the oil-and-lube."

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He added that a "golden" moment came just before Kutcher's "grand entrance" -- a bit in which John Stamos shows up to buy Charlie Harper's old house, "staying only long enough to make the episode’s requisite obliquely homophobic joke.'

The Chicago Sun-Times critic Lori Rackl praised the episode and Kutcher.

"Monday’s opener got off to a surprisingly good start, considering it took place in a funeral home," she wrote. "Penis and fart jokes are one thing — and the first episode made it clear the show intends to keep cranking those out. But death is a tougher sell, even before a studio audience full of fans."

She added that Kutcher held his own as a newcomer to the long-running show.

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"Filling the void left by a well established character isn’t easy, but Kutcher mostly succeeded," she wrote. "At times his character seemed a bit like Lennie petting the rabbits in Of Mice and Men, but give him a few episodes, and he should settle in nicely."

Scott Pierce of the Salt Lake Tribune noted that it would not have been surprising if the episode had been a disappointment -- but it wasn't. In fact, he had high praise for the premiere.

STORY: Charlie Sheen-Less 'Two and a Half Men': What the Viewers Are Saying

"The ghost of Charlie hung over the new version of Two and a Half Men, but it didn't exactly cast a pall," he wrote. "It launched the show into what looks like a promising new chapter. It was funny. Really funny."

He added that the writers threw in "some great bonuses for fans," including Stamos' cameo (Stamos was one of the actors whose names were floated as a possible Sheen replacement).

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The Chicago Tribune's Robert Lloyd echoed that sentiment, writing that the season is off to a "promising" start.

"Kutcher brings a softness to a series that could be brittle and sour, misanthropic and misogynistic, and temperamentally middle-aged," he wrote. "His presence might allow Cryer to play some sweeter, less strident notes, though it is up to [series creator Chuck] Lorre, of course, to make that happen."

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