Charlie Sheen, left, with James Black and Darius McCrary, right, in a scene… (Greg Gayne / FX )
To the extent that he ever really went away, Charlie Sheen is back.
He knows that you know that he knows that you know all about the sensational circumstances of his departure from "Two and a Half Men," and the first words he speaks in "Anger Management," the FX sitcom premiering Thursday that will restore, confirm or destroy his reputation, go straight to that point.
"You can't fire me, I quit. You can't replace me with some other guy; it won't be the same. You may think I'm losing but I'm not — anyway, you get the idea."
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It turns out that Sheen, as therapist Charlie Goodson, is speaking to an inflatable punching clown, and that he is not speaking for himself but rather describing some of the "generic" reasons why an angry person would want to punch an inflatable clown. Of course, he is speaking for Charlie Sheen.
Nominally based on the 2003 Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson movie "Anger Management," it shares nothing with that film but a title, the star's occupation and scenes of group therapy, which means that formally it has as much to do with "The Bob Newhart Show." But that title would not have worked here at all.
That Sheen himself has in the past been court-ordered to just such therapy is an irony, if you want to call it that, that some among the show's creators must have found deliciously irresistible. The premise itself seems to be, not even subtextually, another middle finger extended by the actor toward his enemies and detractors and all those who fail to recognize his Martian-rock stardom, tiger blood and Adonis DNA, or who regard the fantastic money he has made in show business — a business in which he has continued during his exile comparatively to thrive — as not strictly indexed to his talent.
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For the sake of the real-world drama, one wishes almost that "Anger Management" would have turned out to be either apocalyptically awful or so brilliantly unexpected and unexpectedly brilliant that it would cause even his fans to rethink everything they thought they knew about Charlie Sheen. But notwithstanding a few basic-cable advantages as regards material and language — the show is rated TV-14 — it is an old-fashioned, multi-camera sitcom, from makers of old-fashioned, multi-camera sitcoms, and sticks to the rules. It is distressingly average.
It is not a train wreck; it's just a train — chugging along from A to B, carrying the people, delivering the freight. The jokes arrive, one by one, on schedule. I found it about as funny as I found Sheen's last series, which is to say not that funny, though I can see that some will.
Its failures, in any case, are not especially Sheen's, who hits his marks as well as anyone here. However much a danger he may be to himself or to others once he clocks off work, he is clearly able to make his way through a half-hour of taped comedy without falling to pieces or forcing the viewer continually to contemplate the dangers of drugs or the ravages of time.
And I am happy to see at least — though he makes sure to strut some sexy stuff with Selma Blair, as his semi-ex-therapist-with-benefits — he does not play (quite) the same antiquated aging roué he played on "Two and a Half Men" and has played in life. Indeed, the person he portrays in "Anger Management" — a divorced father in recovery from his own anger issues, with a vestigial, ridiculed tendency to date "hotties" — can be seen as a critique of Charlie Sheen, American Bad Boy.
If Charlie Goodson was a jerk in his minor-league ballplaying youth, he strives to be a good guy now, or at least to look like one. He has a sense of shame.
As if protectively, the star has been surrounded with familiar players many will be glad to see, including Blair; Michael Boatman (Sheen's old "Spin City" costar) as a neighbor and pal; Shawnee Smith as his ex-wife; Derek Richardson as a member of Charlie's group; Barry Corbin as yet another grumpy old guy; and Brett Butler, who helmed and lost a hit sitcom of her own ("Grace Under Fire," also created by Chuck Lorre) and whose own career was once bedeviled by addiction, in a small part as a bartender. It is nice to hear her particular music again, however briefly.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)
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