By Tom Gliatto Lesley Messer Kate Coyne
December 13, 2010 12:00 PM

Two and a Half Men

CBS, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Eight seasons in, this sitcom about sex-crazed party animal Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) and his nerdy brother Alan (Jon Cryer) is still a big hit, this season’s top-rated comedy. But how? Sheen’s adventures off-camera would seem to barely leave time to appear on-camera. The title’s “half” man-Angus T. Jones-has morphed into a 17-year-old who looks as if he could clap Sheen and Cryer together like erasers. And too much of the material has the regrettable smirk of an aging playboy dictating jokes from his water bed. What works is the setup, built on family tensions that are milked for sharp, mean farce. There’s no lack of payoff in the zingers about Charlie’s debauchery, Alan’s cheapness and everyone’s dislike for their mom. Holland Taylor plays her with a subtle poison that would enthrall the Medicis.

The Middle

ABC, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT |


In its second season, Patricia Heaton’s family sitcom seems to have found its natural resting point, like a bubble in a carpenter’s level, midway between the scrappily eccentric Raising Hope and the fizzy, shiny Modern Family. The Hecks of Orson, Ind., are rushed along on a daily tide of jobs, errands and chores. The show has a very sure grip on how these minor events, accompanied by small satisfactions, play out in a household of two middle-aged parents, two teenage kids and one inscrutable 9-year-old. And Heaton hits just the right note: exhausted braying and maternal warmth.

The Hasselhoffs

A&E, Dec. 5, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


What a weirdly haunting figure David Hasselhoff has turned into: a friendly giant lugging emotional baggage the size of Grand Central Terminal. Here we see him as single dad to Taylor-Ann and Hayley, both showbiz aspirants. The show is cornball (“It can be a hassle to be a Hoff,” he says), but I’m willing to grant him this small, soft lob toward career rehab.