TV

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

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

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As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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