I often write about pop culture on this blog, but it's usually pop culture past. Present day pop culture is too fragmented. I have a harder time getting a handle on it. Thus, I have avoided the whole Charlie Sheen saga. Until now. Everybody talking about it has made me want to talk about it. No, I'm not following the herd. I'm just fascinated that in this thousand channel world, there's somebody we can all still talk about. It restores my faith in conformity. What the hell am I talking about? I chafe against conformity, especially when I find myself giving into it, as I'm apparently doing now. Well, at least it gives me a topic everybody will recognize.
In order to prepare for this piece, I decided to watch Sheen's hit sitcom, Two and a Half Men. It's been on the air eight years, and just now I'm getting around to watching it. For most of my life, waiting that long to watch a hit sitcom would have been unthinkable. I grew up on sitcoms. Along with comic strips and Jerry Lewis movies, situation comedy was a refuge from a wholly unsatisfactory childhood and adolescence. Early on there were such after school UHF classics as Gilligan's Island, Green Acres , The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and everybody's WWII favorite, Hogan's Heroes . OK, so "classics" is a relative term. I also liked The Dick Van Dyke Show. I wasn't totally lacking in sophistication at age 9. Later on, and later in the day, and night, as my bedtime was pushed ahead, I watched everything from All in the Family to Happy Days to The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Taxi. In my adulthood, there were Cheers and Seinfeld. I have a couple of sitcom writers (Ken Levine and Mark Rothman) in the sidebar to the left. If you liked either MASH or The Odd Couple, you should check them out.
So smitten was I with the form as a weird little kid, I can remember creating imaginary sitcoms while others my age dreamed of becoming cowboys or astronauts. For instance, when I was in, I believe, the second grade, we had to learn about Alaska. I remember the teacher showing us a picture of some warplanes parked at an U.S. military base, and explaining to us that this was to protect Alaska from Russia, just across the Bering Strait (my second-grade teacher prefigured Sarah Palin.) This got my wheels turning. In my imaginary sitcom, the comical dad took his comical family on vacation to Alaska, and while there, the Rooskies attacked! For reasons that made sense to me when I was 7 or 8, the invaders segregated all the children in Alaska from their parents. Even the Eskimos. My comical father comically snuck into the children detention center to visit his kids, and, while there, comically tripped over a wire that comically set off an alarm alerting the Pentagon that Alaska had been invaded. This also made sense to me at the time. Anyway, the commies skedaddled back to their side of the Bering Strait, and my comical father was awarded a medal by the President. I figured Richard M. Nixon could play himself, much the same way Bob Crane had once played himself on The Lucy Show.
Hey, what am I telling you all this for? I might still be able to sell this idea to Hollywood. Just replace Nixon with Obama.
So, if I'm that much in love with sitcoms, why did it take me so long to watch Two and a Half Men? Love wanes over time. It's not that sitcoms have declined in quality. I imagine some are good, some are bad, and many are in-between, just as always. I think I've just been overexposed to the format. Eat too many strawberries, you can develop an allergy.
Nevertheless, for the good of this essay, I watched Two and a Half Men. I found it funny. I also found the show right after it funny. Mike and Molly is a sitcom about two overweight people who meet at a Weight Watchers-like meeting and fall in love. In this particular episode, Mike befriends an overweight girl with a pretty face, thus making Molly jealous. Actually, Molly has a pretty face, too. It just that Molly is sort of ordinary pretty, whereas the other girl is glamorously pretty. Think Betty and Veronica. Or Mary Ann and Ginger. So that's the set-up. The ordinarily pretty overweight girl is jealous because her overweight boyfriend is spending too much time with a glamorously pretty overweight girl. I found this setup not only funny but also a perceptive look at the relativity of physical attraction.
Hey, why am I talking about Mike and Molly? This is supposed to be about Three and a Half Men and Charley Sheen.
I did find Charley Sheen funny. I also found Martin Mull funny. He was playing this doped-out pharmacist (apparently drug humor is back in vogue; everything is cyclical.) I've always found Martin Mull funny, going back to when he played Garth and his twin brother Barth on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Even when he played straight man (so to speak) to Roseanne Barr on her sitcom, I found him the funnier of the two. Mull was also a stand up comedian at one time. Maybe I should say sit-down, as an easy chair was a part of his routine. I occasionally caught him doing his act on talk shows during the 1970s. Hilarious. It's a shame he's not a bigger star than he is.
Wait, I'm supposed to be talking about Charlie Sheen, aren't I? Let's just skip Two and a Half Men. It's too distracting, and concentrate on the man himself.
According to what I've been able to find out about him on-line, Charlie Sheen has dated hookers, stuck a knife against his wife's throat, bottomed out on drugs and alcohol, recovered from drugs and alcohol (though not through AA, whom he regards as sissies), considers himself a rock star, wants his show to be enjoyed but not processed by men who go to bed with ugly wives and have ugly kids, has a problem with trolls and turds, feels he's a winner and everybody who complains about him is a loser (if you say something nice about him, does your golf game improve?), thinks Thomas Jefferson is a wimp, has poetry at his fingertips, and flies an F-18--no, excuse me, is an F-18 that drops ordnance, even as it's lonely up there with the goddesses.
I've taken some of the above out of context. Trust me, it's even weirder in context.
Oh, yes, the thing that got him fired from his sitcom. Sheen criticized his producer, Chuck Lorre, for changing his original Hebrew-sounding name to something more gentile. Why did Lorre do that? Can't say. Maybe it has something to do with Sheen calling himself a Vatican assassin. That would make anybody with a Hebrew-sounding name a little nervous.
Sheen has taken his show on the road. Just last night he was in Cleveland. With tickets $60 a pop, I couldn't afford to go, but I read in this morning's paper that the show was a hit. Oh, I guess there was a heckler or two. Seems Sheen was talking about a childhood stuttering problem, when somebody in the audience yelled out "You, suck!" Sheen immediately switched the subject to crack and hookers. I have no idea what the heckler's wife and kids looked like.
I must say, I regret not scraping enough money together to see the show. I, too, could have yelled something out to him. No, I wouldn't have heckled him. I just want to ask him a question. A question no audience member, no journalist, no radio host, has the guts to ask him. Charlie Sheen, if you're reading this now, I demand you answer this question!
What's Martin Mull really like?