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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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Two sitcoms are forced to make changes at the top, and not for the better


Ashton Kutcher, replacing Charlie “Scorched Earth” Sheen on CBS’s Two and a Half Men, is doing possibly the best work of his career. Only it’s under the wrong circumstances. He’s Walden Schmidt, a new-tech zillionaire who’s both a romantic (he pines over the breakup of his marriage) and an erotic pagan (he prances around naked as if he were in the forest with a panpipe). Kutcher plays the part with charming, man-child fecklessness. He’s the closest thing here to a real human, which means he’s in the wrong Malibu bachelor pad. This is a well-constructed, old-school sex farce. Sheen, with the edge of a rusting razor, was right at home with the rancid-playboy humor. So is the expert Jon Cryer, who now dominates as wormy, woman-hungry Alan Harper. Like it or not, he’s the man. Things are also problematic at NBC’s The Office. With Steve Carell gone, Ed Helms, as Andy Bernard, has moved up to manager. His fallback shtick is beet-red, self-conscious embarrassment-but shouldn’t whoever runs the place be oblivious to his own incompetence? James Spader, as the cryptic new CEO, is better. Everything he says sounds like a parable intended for stupid children. That’s how to manage Dunder Mifflin.



Hell on Wheels

AMC, Nov. 6, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


Cynical, tough and bloody, this vivid new western fits perfectly in the AMC lineup, which seems to have been created by people who have never known a single happy day. The Civil War is over, and construction on the Union Pacific Railroad lags, in part due to the shenanigans of corrupt boss “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney). He puts his crew under the charge of ex-Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, looking like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood). Amid the clang of iron and stone, he’s on a secret mission of destruction, hunting down his wife’s killers. This drive for revenge is what makes the plot spark, smoke and go chug-a-chug-chug.