Looking for lesbian role models in a Chuck Lorre sitcom is like searching for vegans at the Kansas City Barbecue Festival: It’s theoretically possible that you’ll find one, but it would come as a huge surprise.
Nevertheless, when Two and a Half Men returned for its 11th season last week, it added a lesbian to its cast of characters, and she’s pretty different from the kind of gay woman network TV typically serves up.
This is a great leap forward, but anything would have been better than the rickety status quo. Charlie Sheen’s Charlie Harper character was killed off after the actor’s public meltdown in 2011, and the story currently has “half-man” Jake serving overseas in the Army. That left Jon Cryer’s Alan as the last, lingering hope of the show’s title making any sense whatsoever. Ashton Kutcher might be the highest-paid actor in sitcoms, but there’s a limit to how many episodes per year can revolve around his Walden Schmidt character asking why Alan is still living in the luxe Malibu beach house that Walden now owns.
Enter Amber Tamblyn as Jenny, Charlie’s 25-year-old daughter, who appeared from nowhere last week. She’s a chip off the old block—a boozer, an enthusiastic consumer of illicit substances, and, it turns out, a lady-killer. In the first episode, she picked up a waitress without so much as learning her name. The next morning, when Jenny paraded her conquest—clad in bra and panties—by her breakfasting relatives, she rubbed her aching jaw and mumbled, “I’m surprised I can even talk.”
In last night’s episode, Jenny provided the show’s writers with another chance to make an oral sex joke (an overcomplicated bit of business about “eating too much ginger”); she declared herself the most “masculine” person in the house (not altogether incorrectly, even though she wears décolletage-revealing tops and has long hair); and she showed off her skills as a pickup artist yet again when still another attractive young woman in skimpy underwear appeared from her bedroom looking severely underslept.
Lorre’s mega-hit The Big Bang Theory did a huge favor to TV nerds by breaking down a monolithic stereotype into a number of sympathetic and differentiated characters. (After all, Raj Koothrappali and Sheldon Cooper have very different tics and traits.) Could he do the same for TV lesbians, adding a loosey-goosey pickup artist to the ranks of brittle, uptight serial monogamists? (I’m looking at you, Santana and Calzona.) I’m not going to hold my breath, but so far at least, I’m glad Jenny exists. She’s providing viewers with a chance to show how comfortable they are with lesbians on television. CBS originally signed Tamblyn for a five-episode arc so the network could gauge the audience response. Just a few days after her first appearance, she was promoted to a series regular. Apparently, America is ready for a lesbian character who spends a lot of her time drunk, high, and nursing a sore jaw.