Greg Gayne/CBS
People Staff
February 29, 2008 12:00 AM

After an unintended hiatus caused by the writers’ strike, the cast and creators of Two and a Half Men have hit the ground running with new episodes near completion and a return appearance by Jenny McCarthy on the horizon.

“There was an excitement to be back,” star Charlie Sheen told PEOPLE at an Academy of TV event at the Leonard Goldenson Theater, explaining that while the cast and crew felt the show was on top of its game this season, the three-month break re-energized them. “We were really cookin’ and then it all stopped … We all got back and a couple days into it and we were fine. We didn’t miss a step.”

And based on Sheen’s description of the first two new episodes, the show hasn’t lost its taste for adult comedy or for creatively humiliating the brothers played by Sheen and co-star Jon Cryer. “I try to help Jon out of a relationship that’s going bad, and that backfires — he winds up with a groin injury and I wind up getting Maced,” Sheen said. “And next Jon is obsessed with his ex-wife’s new husband being a much better lover than he ever was.”

Executive producer Chuck Lorre also said an upcoming storyline features, “Charlie trying to help Jake meet a young girl that he’s infatuated with. So they’re just great little character stories. No big concepts.”

Co-creator Lee Aronsohn said Jenny McCarthy, the scheming, Ferrari-selling hottie, who may become the Harper brothers’ stepsister, is due for a return visit. “We’re going to have her back. She plays the daughter of Robert Wagner and he’s going to be back.” The producers also revealed that Charlie’s neighbor/stalker Rose (Melanie Lynskey) will also be back in upcoming episodes and are considering a return for Alan’s ditzy ex Candy, played by April Bowlby.

Lorre said he favors the smaller-scale approach to radical, show-changing story arcs or topical humor. “To me the biggest challenge is making the stories smaller and smaller and smaller — not bigger. The best episodes that we do are really with the three guys sitting around that kitchen table talking about their lives.”

The creators don’t see any obvious end in sight for the series, especially with the character of Jake, played by Angus T. Jones, maturing into a teenager, which opens up even more story possibilities. “I think that we have two or three more years after this one,” Lorre said. “We have a lot of stories to tell as our young man grows up. His life gets more complicated and we get better stories as a result of it.”

As long as the Man-ly environment doesn’t corrupt the young co-star. “Occasionally we marvel at how much we’re probably messing up Angus T. Jones for life, but he’s a lovely kid so far,” laughed Cryer. “We haven’t ruined him completely. He’s not knocking off convenience stores just yet, and so I think we’re doing a good job.” –Scott HuverGreg Gayne/CBS

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