As easy of a joke as it is, there is something refreshingly honest about the opening scene of the premire of Charlie Sheen’s new FX sitcom Anger Management, during which Sheen’s character — an anger management group therapist — takes out his frustration on a rubber doll, shouting phrases along the lines of, “You think you can replace me?” and “It won’t be as good without me!” Exquisitely unsubtle meta-references to Sheen’s boot from Two and Half Men back in 2011. Any daringness existent in the scene doesn’t come attached to the writers’ willingness to pay credit to Sheen’s professional past. In fact, a star whose off-camera life can be successfully farmed for jokes is found money. What is commendable about the material is that it acknowledges why people are watching Anger Management. Straight out the gate, the show is making Two and a Half Men jokes. It doesn’t wait until a few episodes in, nor the end of the pilot, nor the end of the first scene, nor the end of the first sentence. The very first thing viewers are given when they tune in is Sheen, faced directly at the camera, spouting a gag about his dispute with Men creator Chuck Lorre and his resultant replacement by Ashton Kutcher. It’s an admission from the show itself that the reason people are tuning into Anger Management is to see the other side of the Sheen tunnel.
So how does it hold up? Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly on board the Sheen bandwagon back in his glory days of Two and a Half Men. For those in the same company — those not looking to fill the void of the CBS sitcom’s pre-Walden Schmidt era — Anger Management isn’t going to do you any favors. The sitcom presents itself with many of the same ideals as its predecessor. Some of the larger themes involve sex, divorce, sexuality, and contentious social relationships with a comedic spin. But to those seeking a complete rehashing of the adventures of Charlie Harper, Anger Management only meets you half way.
Perhaps in light of Sheen’s public “rehabilitation,” his Anger Management character (also named Charlie) is a tad more “together” than those of past. Another homage to Sheen’s life, the character is a former baseball player (an obvious nod to the actor’s Major League days) whose athletic days were also his days of “rage”… and of alcoholism and infidelity. But now, Charlie — surnamed Goodson this time around — is better. He’s learned how to live happily. He is an anger management therapist with his own group of one-note patients — the token gay guy, the token bigot, the token pervert, and the token girl — to cure. He’s also the attentive father of a teenaged girl struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The show actually does deserve props for not grabbing at a more stereotypical portrayal of OCD: Charlie’s daughter Emma (Daniela Bobadilla) is not shown to be particularly neat or clean, but struggles with anxiety that manifests in repetitive habits. Her scene of locking/unlocking the door over and over is meant to be played for laughs, but at least it’s not hand-washing. Charlie Goodson stands up for tolerance, nonviolence, and healthy human behavior.
But of course, he’s still Charlie. He’s still a womanizer — driven by the casual sex he is having with friend and fellow psychologist Kate (Selma Blair), obsessed with fancy cars, and not above childish pride. Not to mention his character history: The man fought, drank, cheated on his wife, and used people to benefit him. He’s got Charlie in him… but will it be enough for Two and a Half Men fans?
Here, Sheen is playing his own straight man. He’s got the wild side of Charlie Harper in his character, but he’s also meant to be a believably good father and skilled medical professional. As such, he’s going to be a slightly less “colorful” character. While those averse to the ways of the Sheen will be put off by Goodson’s cons, those looking for the same old, hedonistic, free-wheelin’ Charlie Harper might actually be put off by his pros.
It might not seem fair to keep comparing Anger Management to Two and a Half Men, but it’s the show’s doing. If it didn’t want comparison, it wouldn’t open its very first scene with jokes about Sheen’s ousting from the series. Anger Management begs us to draw parallels with Sheen’s life. The only problem is that this isn’t the venue for it. A comedy rooted in the appeal of sex jokes doesn’t work when its character is meant to be past the stages of suspended adolescence. Granted, the pilot does attend to the idea that Goodson still has some work to do on achieving self-betterment. But unfortunately, the show’s humor doesn’t look like it has any intention of maturing along with its character, or with its star.
So can Anger Management work for anyone? People looking for crazy Sheen might be disappointed. People uninterested in Sheen altogether will be put off. People who actually hoped for a spinoff of the Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson movie will have no idea what is going on. Anger Management doesn’t really know who it’s trying to make laugh, and as such, there’s doesn’t look to be a whole lot of laughter.
[Image Credit: FX]
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A “bedtime story” is a fairly succinct way to describe Lady. Of course a bedtime story being told by M. Night Shyamalan can go into any number of weird and wild directions. The writer/director says the idea for Lady was based on a story he’d told his kids which began with “Did you know that someone lives under our pool?” and revolves around Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) a lowly superintendent for an apartment building who inadvertently finds Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) a mysterious nymph-like “narf ” living in the pool. She’s there to complete a task and now that it’s done she needs to go home back to the Blue World. But that’s easier said than done. She only has a small window of opportunity and apparently there’s a ferocious beast called a “scrunt” lurking in the grass around the pool waiting to kill her if she tries to leave. Now Cleveland and a few of the other tenants—who find themselves intricately tied to Story’s plight—must help her escape to freedom. Thank god for Sideways. Without it Giamatti would have gone on playing under the radar without the recognition—and juicier parts—he deserves. He is truly a wonder as Cleveland a sad little man with a stutter who is quietly trying to hide from a tragic past. It’s only when Story comes into his life does he face his personal tragedy and learn to live again. Howard on the other hand who wowed most of us with her stunning performance in The Village doesn’t have nearly as much to work with as the pale water nymph. The mystical character is fairly one note—befuddled and cheerless. But the rest of the apartment tenants shine: Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) as a single dad who has a penchant for crossword puzzles; Freddy Rodriguez (HBO’s Six Feet Under) as a weight builder who only lifts weights on one side of his body; Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind) as a pompous film critic (and as a critic I’m not at all offended when he gets his comeuppances); Cindy Cheung as a Korean college student who is key in telling the epic bedtime story; Sarita Choudhury (She Hate Me) as a quippy young woman looking for her mission in life and Shyamalan himself as her brother the person Story is meant to inspire to write something extraordinary. There’s never a dull moment with this crew around. In a way M. Night Shyamalan has become his own worst enemy having to live up to this reputation as a master of suspense and surprise twists. His last effort The Village left many of his fans feeling unsatisfied—and unfortunately he may alienate more with Lady in the Water. But the fact of the matter is he is still one of Hollywood's more brilliant minds on par with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for originality who has an innate talent for crafting ingenious stories filled with genuine human emotions. So maybe this time around he’s made a movie more for those most ardent of his fans who simply revel in the way his mind works no matter how incomprehensible and frivolous it may seem. So what? The diehards might feel compelled to defend Shyamalan’s choices with Lady—how he has come up with an entire universe where things like “scrunts” and the “Tartutic” (simian-like creatures who form an invincible force that maintains law and order in the Blue World) and “Madam Narfs” interact with humans in the real world. If the story actually took place in the Blue World then maybe it’d be easier to swallow. But that’s sort of the genius of Shyamalan. It’s as if with Lady in the Water he’s crafted a child-like movie for those adults who remember being told wildly creative bedtime stories who then in turn tell the stories to their kids.