When Charlie Sheen was very publically fired earlier in the year, all eyes were on Two and a Half Men to see what would happen next. Could the show really go on without Charlie Sheen?

The answer, as the first episode of season nine demonstrates with confidence, is a resounding, ‘Damn right, it can!’ With Ashton Kutcher replacing Sheen’s presence in the form of newly-introduced character, Walden Schmidt, its future is already looking secure straight off the bat.

The opening to the ninth season of the show, entitled ‘Nice To Meet You, Walden Schmidt’, begins with Charlie’s funeral, after having fallen in front of a Metro train in Paris, making it a closed-casket service with no need to show us a body, and thus readily and immediately moving forwards following Sheen’s expulsion from the show. A group of ex-girlfriend mourners attending the service lament the parting gifts they’d received from Charlie from a number of trysts more than the death of the man himself, and only his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) seems to be genuinely sad to see him go.

I personally thought the first half of the show spent a little too much time attacking Charlie’s memory more than anything, and as such, some of the jokes fell a little flat in my mind. But its second half, when Ashton Kutcher’s Walden Schmidt comes in, was absolutely terrific. Schmidt’s entrance into the show was perfect, an excellently timed comedic introduction to his character with a nice set-piece to boot. Ordinarily, I’m not a huge fan of physical comedy, but this was a good one.

Schmidt and Alan find themselves in mutual sadness – Schmidt having been dumped by his girlfriend earlier that day – and so they head out to drown their sorrows at the nearby bar. It’s here where things start to fall into place, and we see how Schmidt’s going to be incorporated into the show in Charlie’s role. Alan had been on the brink of moving back in with his mother, unable to afford to live in Charlie’s house that is the staple of the show, and it naturally transpires that Schmidt has more money than Alan can talk about without stuttering with joy.

It’s a neat way of wrapping up the problem of introducing the third of the three male lead characters into the show fairly seamlessly, and the writers and creators have done well to make it happen with such a sense of ease. Alan and Walden’s chemistry is immediately as affable and enjoyable as watching Two and a Half Men with Sheen, and the show has clearly had no trouble at all in finding its feet after what could have been a fatal decision to fire Sheen this year.

Schmidt is already filling Charlie’s shoes nicely, with his charm easily coming across in this first episode, which has a number of entertaining pixelated moments of nudity in just the first twenty minutes of the season. If you have twenty minutes to spare, and you’ve ever been a fan of Two and a Half Men, I highly recommend that you take the time to meet Walden Schmidt yourself. You’re going to love him.

Almost 30 million people tuned in over in the States to watch the season premiere, the highest rating yet for the show, and it will be interesting to see the percentage that stick with it in the coming weeks as the season progresses.

The first episode is available to download now via iTunes, and each episode will be up the day after it airs in the States. Check back in to catch up on my review of the season, episode-by-episode. It should be a lot of fun.