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]