Charlie Sheen out, Ashton Kutcher in
The stars of Two and a Half Men are scrutinising a publicity photo depicting them as a tuxedo-clad trio sharing a vintage microphone.
Ashton Kutcher is in the centre of the shot, flanked by Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones on the other. Charlie Sheen is out of the picture.
"It's nice," offered Cryer, adding a query to Jones: "But that's not your hand, is it? I believe they had too big a black spot there and they photoshopped in a hand."
"That's not my head, is it?" said Kutcher.
Oh, those kidders. But the silliness carries a message: The three actors are a comfortable fit with each other and for the revamped Two and a Half Men, which returns today for its ninth season, minus the fired Sheen.
Executive producer Chuck Lorre and the Warner Bros studio clashed bitterly with their erratic, hard-partying star before dumping him last March and cutting the season short. The task now is to salvage what has reigned as TV's top-rated comedy.
Kutcher, who carries the weight of replacing Sheen as newly introduced character Walden Schmidt, diligently ticks off reasons the sitcom can remain a hit.
"The series has momentum. It has fans that are built in," he said. "I think the great thing the writers have done is they haven't lost the sensibility of the show. ... It's going to offend people just as much as every episode has offended people."
Two and a Half Men accomplished that by trafficking in jokes and innuendo as it detailed the antics of fast-living womanising cad Charlie Harper (Sheen). More fodder came from his roommates, Charlie's neurotic, divorced brother Alan (Cryer) and young nephew Jake (Jones).
The shake-up has given the show the chance to push the envelope in a new direction: laughing in the face of death, with Sheen's character jettisoned in a fatal accident. Kutcher fills the vacuum playing an internet genius who is wealthy but unlucky in love and who moves in with Alan and Jake, creating a new buddy triangle. Judy Greer plays the heartbroken Walter's ex.