Television

Charlie Sheen's New Show 'Anger Management' Strikes Out

Inkoo Kang

Anger Management does its best to duplicate Two and a Half Men while avoiding a copyright infringement lawsuit by Chuck Lorre.


Anger Management

Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm ET
Cast: Charlie Sheen, Selma Blair, Shawnee Smith, Daniela Bobadilla
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: FX
Creator: Bruce Helford
Air date: 2012-06-28
Website
Trailer
Amazon

It's easy to root for FX. In the last five years, the youth-oriented cable network has more than once bested HBO and AMC in the quality programming department, but still, its early reputation as Spike TV's smarter older brother hobbles it in the hustle for prestige. FX's signature shows -- Sons of Anarchy, Justified, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia -- have yet to generate buzz on the level of Game of Thrones or Girls, but they are undeniable critical hits and (cable) ratings blockbusters. FX's roster currently boasts three superlative comedies: the scary-smart Louie, the cleverly crass Archer, and the metaphysical Wilfred. With the debut of the new Charlie Sheen sitcom, Anger Management, however, FX has fumbled -- and it has fumbled hard.

Nominally based on the Adam Sandler film of the same name, Anger Management has to juggle a lot of balls. It has to capitalize on Sheen's cartoonish machismo (which was on ample display during his massively over-covered breakdown last year), without alienating audiences. It has to rehabilitate Sheen's image from that of a debaucherous and delusional wife-beater and anti-Semite, while still profiting from his "edge." Most of all, it needs to make fun of Sheen's larger-than-life, more-decadent-than-thou antics, to laugh at him, and have him laugh with us.

The show does exactly none of these things.

Developed by Bruce Helford (who previously created TV vehicles for Drew Carey, Norm Macdonald, Wanda Sykes, and George Lopez, with wildly mixed results), Anger Management does its best to duplicate Two and a Half Men while avoiding a copyright infringement lawsuit by Chuck Lorre. Like his character on Men (named Charlie), Sheen's alter ego here (also named Charlie) is a self-indulgent, misogynistic divorced dad in need of a family. Anger Charlie is also a little more dangerous and a lot more mawkish than Men Charlie. A reformed rage-monster and a psychotherapist, he is devoted to helping others with their anger issues after his temper destroyed his chances at a major league baseball career. He has a 13-year-old daughter Emma (Daniela Bobadilla) he'd like to protect from the world, and whose respect he'd like to earn. There's a hint of self-loathing to the character, but not enough to redeem him or his tediously offensive jokes.

The pilot begins with Sheen looking directly into the camera and saying with supreme bluster, "You can't fire me! I quit! You think you can replace me with some other guy? Go ahead. It won't be the same." Yes, it's a message he's sending to Lorre -- or maybe a just message he wants to be seen sending to Lorre. (One suspects that Sheen's actual messages to his former boss contained more references to his grandiose, human-animal-hybrid cosmology.)

But the tension quickly deflates. It turns out that Charlie (the character) is actually talking to a life-sized balloon as part of the group therapy he's leading in his home office. Much of the nastiness in the first episode -- homophobic jokes, flaring tempers, sadistic gags -- is diffused into his zany, over-the-top patients, among them a Vietnam vet, a passive-aggressive gay man, a Lorena Bobbitt wannabe, and a simp turned on by angry women. All of this is a blatant ploy to make Charlie/Sheen look stable by comparison.

The B story has Charlie almost relapsing into violence (against a douchebag who deserves a beat-down, as the show repeatedly normalizes Sheen as much as possible), and going back into therapy. He not so wisely chooses to seek medical help from his best friend (with benefits) Kate, played by Selma Blair, who is essentially a female Charlie. As if to deflect criticisms of misogyny, Anger Management features two age-appropriate (!) tough-cookie love interests, Kate and Charlie's ex-wife Jennifer (Shawnee Smith). It's fun to watch these women give Charlie a hard time, but it also seems wildly improbable that these intelligent, spirited women would have anything to do with Charlie, let alone become the two most important people in his life.

The second episode of the show is less concerned with redemption (and Sheen's PR rehab) than with laughing at ugly women. Or, one ugly woman in particular, Mel (Kerri Kenney), with whom Charlie had sex when he was a minor league player on the road to improve his batting average. (Yeah, it doesn't make sense when you hear it on screen, either.) When she reappears in his life, Charlie uses Mel again -- this time, by telling Emma that he's dating Mel to prove that he's not just a shallow skirt-chaser.

But Sheen is, by all media accounts, a shallow skirt-chaser, and it's disappointing to see FX putting their tiger-blooded Adonis in a family-values sitcom that would've been passé in Archie Bunker's time. A long time ago, when he was an up-and-coming actor, Sheen earned praise for his dramatic performances, and it would have been vastly more interesting and entertaining to see him as one of those unlikeable but compelling anti-heroes who dot the television landscape today, perhaps in a show similar to Showtime's Californication. Instead, the network has risked its own reputation for cutting-edge, genre-busting shows by churning out a sitcom whose main joke is how derivative, unfunny, and unconvincing it is.

2

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

9
Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.