Two and a Half Men Is One of the Most Sex-Positive, Queer-Friendly Shows on Television

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Dec. 16 2013 12:00 PM

Two and a Half Men Is One of the Most Sex-Positive, Queer-Friendly Shows on Television. What?

Ashton Kutcher and Amber Tamblyn in Two and a Half Men
"Must have vagina!" (That really is what Tamblyn's character is saying here.)

Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS

In October, I expressed surprise that, of all the shows on all the networks, Chuck Lorre’s CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men should be the one to broaden the range of representation for TV lesbians by introducing the medium’s first substance-abusing pick-up-artist dyke. Originally, Amber Tamblyn signed on to play Jenny in just five episodes, but the response to the character was so positive, she was quickly promoted to series regular. Since we’re now halfway through the season, I decided to check back to see if the show’s writers had come up with anything interesting for Jenny to do, or if, as I suspected, they’d exhausted their supply of cheap jokes about sore jaws and supercharged lezzie libidos before Tamblyn moved into her on-set trailer.

The answer, astonishingly, is that Jenny has become one of the most interesting lesbians on television. She’s clearly a serious alcoholic with major intimacy issues, but on a show that has always been crass, creepy, and frequently misogynistic, the fact that she has any finer feelings whatsoever means she’s halfway to sainthood.

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Until last week’s episode, Jenny maintained a record of conquest that would make the New York Yankees of the late 1990s envious. Her seduction skills were so slick, Ashton Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt declared she was “like some kind of lesbian zombie infecting all the women of Malibu.” No waitress, esthetician, or underwear model was immune to her charms. Straight, bi, or lesbian, they all ended up in her bed—even the woman who delivered pizza to Jenny and her bed partner. (No tip, though. “She didn’t come in 30 minutes.”) If Jenny had put a notch in her bedpost every time she had sex with a woman, it would have fallen apart long ago.

But on the Dec. 12 Christmas episode, Jenny’s streak broke—and that served to reinforce her humanity. You see, Two and a Half Men exists in a Bizarro World where jerks get laid and nice guys sleep solo. Unless Jon Cryer has a clause in his contract that stipulates he must show his nipples in every episode, I can think of no other reason why his character, Alan, gets a weekly post-coital scene. The guy is a smarmy, schlubby parasite; a cheat, a leech, and a letch. Meanwhile, Walden, a kind-hearted, legitimately handsome billionaire with a beachfront Malibu mansion wakes up alone every morning. So, when Jenny developed feelings for a girl, and thus lost her babe-bagging game, it was a sign of emotional maturity—or at least as much emotional maturity as can be summoned by someone who drinks a bottle of vodka to prepare for a big date.

The last two episodes of 2013 even managed to incorporate a transsexual character in a not entirely horrible way. I admit, I’m grading on a curve: Paula the post-op M-to-F transsexual was played by a biological woman (Paula Marshall) rather than a transwoman; she was more willing to discuss her pre-op body than any trans person I’ve ever known of; and since she ended up making out with her ex-wife (played by Diane Farr), the entire plot line could be seen as a flimsy excuse to stage a girl-on-girl kiss. Nevertheless, Jenny was right when she told Alan, who was dating Paula at the time: “You’re going out with a post-op transgender person without any judgment? Very enlightened." Miraculously, the same could be said about the show.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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