After watching television most of my life, I like to think that it's hard to shock me. But every now and then that kid who was watching TV in the '50s gets an eyeful or an earful of something that shocks. The ''anal'' joke on ''How I Met Your Mother'' on Monday night was one of those. And considering that it was in a show that airs at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 in some parts of the country), I was even more stunned.
I know, I know, ''How I Met Your Mother'' is not remotely a show aimed at kids. All the characters are adults, and their concerns are very adult. Before we had gotten to that joke, we had endured numerous riffs about prostitutes. (The plot involved Barney setting up Ted with a hooker.) Still, I was thinking, this is what they can get away with before 9 at night?
There was also a shock factor in ''Two and a Half Men,'' only partly of the show's making. A major part of the episode involved Charlie dating the mother of Alan's ex-girlfriend. Well, dating doesn't exactly cover it. Charle and Mandi (the mom) spent most of the episode in bed, with considerable conversation about what they were doing there.
In another week, I might have just considered this another funny ''Men'' episode, pushing the laughs while pushing the envelope on describing characters' behavioral extremes. But on this particular Monday, I had been reading the declaration by Denise Richards in her ongoing divorce battle with Charlie Sheen. (You can find a copy, with raw language and descriptions, here.)
Sheen fired back, calling the charges ''baseless'' in an ''Entertainment Tonight'' interview; you can find a report here. But Richards has already done her damage, especially to Sheen as a TV personality. If you read her comments, then look at the character he is playing on TV, it's tough to think the small-screen behavior is funny; it's easy to wonder if art is presenting a toned-down version of reality.
I don't know that, of course. And Charlie is not playing Charlie Sheen on TV. But he is playing a character with echoes of his old bad-boy image, one that is more believable because of the accounts of Sheen's behavior over the years. And what I've been reading lately sure mutes the expected laughs.