Ashton vs. Charlie: Can Kutcher Save ‘Two and a Half Men’?

Ashton Kutcher (left) and Charlie Sheen (Photos: Getty Images)

Ashton Kutcher (left) and Charlie Sheen (Photos: Getty Images)

The changes afoot at “Two and a Half Men” have made the CBS sitcom the most talked-about TV show of the summer.

But the question remains: Is Ashton Kutcher a sure thing? If you were to base an answer solely on the hype surrounding his arrival this month to replace Charlie Sheen, then the prognosis for this high-rated sitcom’s continued success would be positive.

But what’s the real story? Is Kutcher really Sheen’s equivalent? In some ways, no – not by a long shot. In others, well, maybe. With production now under way in Hollywood on the show’s new season – set to begin on Monday, Sept. 19, we’ve been mulling it over. In the process, we’ve narrowed our analysis down to three categories in which to compare these two very different contemporary stars: Movies, TV, and the thing most difficult to define, personality.

Movies: Here’s where Charlie Sheen’s career soars above Kutcher’s. Sheen’s movie career boasts such acclaimed hits as “Platoon” (1986), “Wall Street” (1987) and the great John Sayles film about the 1919 World Series scandal, “Eight Men Out” (1988). True, along the way, he made more than a few movies that weren’t quite as acclaimed – “Major League” (1989, and a sequel in 1994) and “Hot Shots” (1991, and “Part Deux” in 1993), for example (though audiences seemed to like them). And of course, a look at the years in which Charlie made his best movies indicates his best years on the big screen were a long time ago.

But what about Ashton? He has no acclaimed movies to his credit. Instead, he’s best known for movies that are largely forgettable – “Dude, Where’s My Car?” (2000), “What Happens in Vegas” (with Cameron Diaz, 2008), and “No Strings Attached” (with Natalie Portman, 2011). Let’s face it, when it comes to taking on challenging work in movies, Kutcher’s a slacker, while Sheen’s an A-list movie superstar (or, at least, he was).

Ashton on TV: Watch a classic scene from “That ’70s Show” starring Ashton Kutcher:

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TV: Here again, Charlie comes out on top. With his movie career on the wane, Sheen turned to TV, single-handedly saving “Spin City” when he replaced the ailing Michael J. Fox in 2000. He breathed enough life into that sitcom to keep it going for an additional two seasons. Then he was offered “Two and a Half Men” and that show became the highest-rated comedy on television.

As for Ashton, he became famous for playing the doofus Kelso on “That ’70s Show,” a series that was never critically acclaimed nor particularly high-rated, though it managed to limp along for eight seasons. And that’s the sum total of Kutcher’s acting career on TV. He’s been busier behind the scenes, as a producer of reality shows such as “Punk’d” and “Beauty and the Geek” – though it’s hard to see how his experience as a producer will help him revive Two and a Half Men” as a comic actor.

Personality: Here’s the place where Ashton comes out on top. Despite his mediocre credits as an actor in movies and TV, Kutcher has nevertheless crafted an image of extreme likability. He seems to possess so much charisma that no one – except maybe us – even bothers to assess what he’s done in his career previously to qualify him for work as the star of TV’s highest-rated comedy series. Thanks to those ubiquitous Nikon commercials, along with his endlessly publicized forays into social media, Kutcher just seems to encounter universal acceptance and affection wherever he goes.

As for Charlie, he was once so charismatic that he was able to carry “Two and a Half Men” by seeming to exert little or no effort at all. All he had to do was amble into a scene, recite a wisecrack and ratings soared. Now, however, after his meltdown last season, Sheen’s become a late-night monologue joke whose future in movies or TV is uncertain at best. And he’s 45, to boot. Ashton’s just 33, with most of his career still ahead of him.

Still, it remains to be seen if Ashton Kutcher represents the fix “Two and a Half Men” will need to succeed in its first (and possibly only) post-Charlie Sheen season.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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