Midway through Thursday’s premiere, titular bookie Danny (played by Sebastian Maniscalco) heads to Malibu to collect a debt from celebrity client Charlie Sheen. He tracks Sheen down to a rehab facility* — but he’s not there as a patient. He’s hosting a weekly poker game whose attendees include former “Half Man” Angus T. Jones (aka Jake Harper).
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If the scene looks familiar, that’s because it’s an homage to the poker scene in the Two and a Half Men pilot, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. In fact, Sheen and Jones’ poker buddies are the same guys who convened for Charlie Harper’s poker game in 2003.
(*A bonus Easter egg precedes the poker game. When Danny and right-hand man Ray arrive at the rehab, they encounter a woman in complete shambles. She’s played by fellow Two and a Half Men vet Jennifer Taylor, who for two seasons starred as Charlie’s fiancée Chelsea.)
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Below, Lorre talks to TVLine about what it was like to reunite with Sheen and Jones after all these years — and after so much well-publicized drama with his former leading man.
TVLINE | What was it like reuniting with Charlie more than a decade after everything went up in flames on Two and a Half Men?
It was really healing. It really felt good. It felt like we were closing the book on some horrible times, and we had a good time.
It was a painful couple of years. We were making a TV show, hoping to make people laugh, and we did that for eight-and-a-half years, 170-something episodes of [Two and a Half Men], and I’m really proud of the work that we did. It was really gratifying to do a little thing [together] again.
And having Angus be part of it… Angus put acting behind after Two and a Half Men, and he just slipped right [back] into it. It was second nature to him. He was a skillful actor at 10 years old, and he was equally skillful at 30. He looks like a lumberjack now. Man, it was great, and we did another episode with Charlie in this first season [of Bookie].
TVLINE | There are a couple of jokes at Charlie’s expense. Among them is when Danny tells Charlie that Jon Cryer was his favorite on Two and a Half Men. How did Charlie feel about that?
I sent him every version of the script as we were working on it because I was asking a lot of the guy — to participate in a story where we’re literally making fun of his persona. I wanted him to be comfortable, and I wanted to make sure that we were being respectful.
TVLINE | Talk to me about recreating the poker scene from the Two and a Half Men pilot. That must have been a surreal experience for you.
[Charlie and I] were talking about the poker game, and pretty much simultaneously, we both went, “Well, what if we try and recreate the poker game from the pilot?” And then the next moment was me calling Angus and saying, “Hey, Angus! You want a job?” And the other guys in that scene were in the [Men] pilot. A couple of the guys — Eddie Gorodetsky and Dan Foster — were writers on Two and a Half Men.
It was actually almost 20 years to the day that we shot the pilot of Two and a Half Men… only now, instead of being in pajamas and annoying the guys, Angus was in the game, and he was terrific. It was a wonderful thing to reunite with both those guys. It really was.
TVLINE | Prior to the poker scene, you’ve got the establishing shots of Malibu, Jennifer Taylor (aka Chelsea) playing a rehab patient….
And she doesn’t know who Charlie Sheen is!
TVLINE | Were you trying to see how far you could stretch the Two and a Half Men homage?
I don’t know that we’re trying to consciously stretch anything. I mean, our goals are much more mundane. We were trying to make people laugh.
TVLINE | Charlie will be back for another episode later this season. What are the chances we eventually see Charlie and Jon Cryer in a scene together?
Your mouth to God’s ears! I would love that. You know, one of the joys of my career is getting to work with some extraordinary people, and at the top of that list is Jon Cryer. We worked together for 12 years. He’s a gifted, gifted comic actor, and there’s not a greater guy in the world.
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