TV & Radio
Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre has introduced Ashton Kutcher as a new star of television's most popular comedy, while gaining a measure of revenge against the departed Charlie Sheen.
How Sheen's character Charlie Harper would be killed off was a secret, albeit leaked, and it was revealed right away during the season premiere: he slipped on a subway platform in Paris and was hit by an oncoming train.
"His body just exploded like a balloon full of meat," Harper's obsessed neighbour Rose, played by New Zealander Melanie Lynskey, explained.
Sheen went on a spectacular, insult-spewing rampage against Lorre and CBS after he was fired for drug use and erratic behaviour earlier this year. Lorre took the arrows silently - until the first episode of the new season.
The show opened with Jon Cryer, who played ad writer Harper's sad-sack brother Alan, speaking at Charlie's wake in front of a coffin and one of Sheen's signature shirts. Alan said that it was a sad day for everyone.
"Speak for yourself," one woman shouted from the audience.
Alan said that his brother gave everything he got in life - and women called out sexual diseases that they had contracted from him.
Later, Charlie's housekeeper noted that all he had ever asked for was "clean sheets and hosing the vomit off the occasional drug-addled hooker."
The character of Charlie Harper was always considered a thinly-veiled version of Sheen in real life. Lorre's script drove that point home with little romance or sentimentality.
After a delivery man brings Harper's ashes in a golden urn, Alan has a conversation and says it was "just like old times. I'm talking and you're in a bottle ignoring me." He considered how to dispose of the ashes, perhaps sprinkling them on the nearby beach.
"It's simple, dignified, and pretty girls with oil will be sitting on you all day," Alan said.
"It's kind of like your life - except for the dignified part."
When Kutcher surprises Cryer's character by appearing at the doorway, Charlie's ashes are spilled all over the floor.
Sheen watched from home and said seeing his own funeral on TV was "eerie but fun", TMZ reported.
He reportedly said: "I thought it was the best intro for a new a character on a TV show of all time". He particularly enjoyed that Kutcher "was revealed through the dusty exploded smoke of my remains", TMZ reported.
Lorre's barbs come just as Sheen has been expressing contrition in recent days. He said on the Tonight show that he would have fired himself if he was in charge at CBS or the show's producer. On the Emmy Awards telecast on Sunday (local time), he said he wanted to sincerely wish Kutcher and his old colleagues good luck for the new season.
Lorre packed his show with a couple of inside jokes. John Stamos plays a potential buyer of Harper's house who backs off when he finds out who lived there. Stamos was widely considered a possible successor to Sheen before Kutcher was hired.
Actors Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson also appeared as potential buyers, playing their old characters Dharma and Greg, a Lorre-produced series that aired on ABC from 1997 to 2002.
Kutcher plays internet billionaire Walden Schmidt, who made his appearance wet from a suicide attempt in the ocean. It seems Schmidt may be tall, good looking and rich, but he's morose about a lost love.
Kutcher joins right in on the sex jokes that are the show's stock in trade. He walks around naked, and other characters comment on his anatomy. Alan Harper takes Schmidt out to drink, where Schmidt meets two women and brings them to the beachside home.
"I dig your house," he said. "I'm going to buy it."
That appears to set up the second episode, explaining how Schmidt comes to live with two people he doesn't know in a house he just saw.