Ashton Kutcher made his debut as Charlie Sheen’s replacement on the sitcom “Two and a Half Men” on Monday as Internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, marking the end of the Sheen era with several jokes at the former star’s expense. As Lisa de Moraes reported :

Throughout the civilized world, and in portions of Hollywood, one question alone has been on every lip for weeks: How will “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre kill Charlie Sheen’s character, Charlie Harper, and will viewers accept Ashton Kutcher as the series’ new star?

Monday night, all was revealed. Literally, in Kutcher’s case. Charlie Harper died a terrible death, off camera, when he slipped on a Metro platform in Paris and fell in front of an oncoming train, and his body exploded “like a balloon full of meat.”

Yes, we’re in for a half hour of Chuck Lorre comedy with malice.

Sheen’s—uh, Harper’s—death scene was recounted by eyewitness Rose – Charlie Harper’s longtime stalker, played by Melanie Lynskey – who was the heavily veiled guest at Charlie’s funeral, telling family, friends, and lots of women who came to spit on the body – fooled, them, he was cremated -- that she’d gone to Paris with Charlie, he’d proposed to her, and the next few days were the happiest of her life. Only she came back one day after shopping and found him with another woman. But she forgave him, because she loved him unconditionally. Except that, in one of those unfortunate coincidences, it was the very next day Charlie took his “spill” at the Metro.

Oh, and Kutcher, who plays heartbroken Internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, is introduced to the show’s millions of fans, as the guy who suddenly appears, soaking wet and looking like a scared kitten, on the balcony of Charlie’s Malibu house -- which Charlie has left in his will to brother Alan Harper (Jon Cryer), only with three mortgages, so it’s being sold.

The Charlie Sheen era on “Two and a Half Men” ended in ignominy, but fans of the show will find that even with Kutcher at the helm the show doesn’t lose its style. As Hank Stuever reported :

For reasons that everyone knows entirely too much about, television nearly lost “Two and a Half Men” last spring. One of the cast members had personal problems in a broadly public way, the eighth season was halted, and a merciful cancellation seemed possible for the highly rated CBS sitcom.

When all is said and done (and former co-star Charlie Sheen is roasted and toasted and given whatever glories await him) — and now that Ashton Kutcher proved Monday night on the show’s ninth-season premiere that almost any sentient being could have easily joined the cast — the thing I’ll remember most about this saga is that no one besides the people who make money off syndication bounties ever seemed terribly distraught about losing “Two and a Half Men.”

Where were the hard-core fans, the sort who keep detailed episode guides and recaps, fretting over the show’s demise? Where was the letter-writing campaign? Where was the panic about how it all ends, and what would happen next, and how all the writers would resolve all the complicated story lines?

Well, of course, we know better than that. There are no complicated story lines. There was never anything in this show to think about, which is why it’s such a hit. It’s the show your Nana watches so she can pretend to be shocked by all the jokes about just-tawdry-enough sexual escapades. It’s misogyny and promiscuity made all giddy and giggly.

And with Kutcher as its new co-star, “Two and a Half Men” demonstrated just how uncomplicated it is.

Monday’s “Two and a Half Men” was watched by 28 million viewers, a record audience for the show. As Lisa de Moraes reported:

Nearly 28 million people caught the expunging of Charlie Sheen from CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” Monday night. That’s the long-running sitcom’s largest audience — ever.

The episode — in which Sheen’s Charlie Harper is described as having been killed when he slipped on a platform at a Metro in Paris, fell in front of an oncoming train and his body exploded like a meat balloon — also clocked its biggest ever audience among viewers advertisers pay a premium to reach – 18-49 year olds.

More than 10 percent of the country’s audience in that age bracket tuned in to the show — either live in its 9 p.m. timeslot, or via recording device later that day — to see how creator Chuck Lorre would introduce Ashton Kutcher as a lovelorn internet billionaire who buys Charlie’s Malibu pad and yet someone wants Charlie’s impecunious brother Alan (Jon Cryer) and son Jake to remain. A 10.3 rating in that demographic group for a eight-season-old series is the very definition of ginormous ratings in this TV landscape.

The previous largest-ever crowd to come to “Men” was the 24.2 million who watched the episode that aired at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, May 16, 2005, immediately after the series finale of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

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