Before we enter our Socratic dialogue on tonight's advancement in television arts that is Charlie Sheen Presents: Anger Management, I'd like to tell everyone a little bit about my rocky past. As a child I showed promise, both in looks and studies. I excelled in my lessons and became favored as a model boy before both of my parents became famous professional clowns and perished in a structural art disaster at Burning Man. From there I fell into the rough and nasty life of a teenage runaway spending my formative years hooking in Circuit City parking lots and ripping off tourists all over the Northwest before joining up with a crew of traveling carnies. We huffed paint, ate garbage for sport, and held dust-covered orgies beneath Ferris wheels from Pomona to Pawtucket. I'll stop there—notice how you don't give a damn about my past?
Whether I'm lying or not is irrelevant: This review is about a subject matter other than myself. It is about a TV show filled with fake characters and constructed environments. We are not meant to consider what goes on behind the scenes. Our role as an audience is to simply enjoy the scene itself, fantasy and all. Yet 99.99 percent of why this program is happening is a very real person's public meltdown at the center of it all: Shawnee Smith. Wait, I mean this guy…
That's right Charlie Goodson. The ex-baseball player turned therapist whose story of career hiccups caused by a tantrum of largess very closely resembles that of the man beneath the mask: You know, that one guy who talked about tiger blood and goddesses or whatever. Are we still supposed to care about that? Kind of.
Tonight's pilot (which aired right after a day's worth of Two and a Half Men episodes) opened with a total dupe-fest of a shot, wherein "Charlie" shouted at the camera head-on about being replaced in between punching something just out of frame. It turned out he was only demonstrating to his therapy group how to express anger, and not in fact offering a window into a dimension wherein the universes of Two and a Half Men and Anger Management intersect. I don't know about you, but at the exact moment of this flawless meta psych-out, I opened the window and heard every viewer in America collectively go "Whaaaa?"
Hey, we all know the tale of Charlie Sheen, and Anger Management expects us to. Why else would FX air a marathon of Sheen's former sitcom leading into the premiere and then start things off a with a torch-passing joke about all the unpleasantness concerning the—well let's just say he was mad about losing his job, and leave it at that? Hey look, baseball!
Kenny Powers much? So the first episode centered around Charlie (Goodson) getting pissed at his ex-wife Jennifer's boyfriend (Shawnee Smith as Jennifer, Brian Austin Green as the boyfriend) for telling his daughter Sam (Daniella Bobadilla) that college isn't all that important. Honestly without seeing any promos for this show but at least knowing it would air on FX, I was surprised to be hit with the basic sitcom setup but oh well maybe it was in Sheen's contract or something to allow for the maximum phoning-in of "it." Anyway Charlie was seriously concerned for his daughter's future, but B-Green was like "Nah, I'm right. College blows!"
I'd agree with this sentiment based on student loan debt alone, except both Jennifer and Charlie seemed to be doing alright in the money department, so sorry B-Green, you are wrong. College is a great way to meet people and connect over issues, like the environment or God. But let's back up a bit. When Charlie is not being a caring father, he runs a therapy group for stereotypes out of his living room, lending his expertise to a gay man, a schlubby hipster, a stuck-up rich girl, and a grizzled Vietnam vet. Also, he's having relations with fellow therapist and friend with benefits Kate (Selma Blair) on the reg, and the two seem to enjoy the freedom said stringless boot-knockin' affords them. I mean look at these two sexin' sexers:
What a swinging dude. So after this epic score sesh, Charlie got the call to go pick up his daughter and nearly flew into a lamp-smashing rage over the continued nerve of B-Green.
For some reason, this scene was played for semi-seriousness. Sam was SHOCKED to see her father behave thusly (maybe he used to beat her mom with lamps?). On any other sitcom this would be dismissed. Hell, I think I've seen people fly down stairs in skis without other characters so much as batting an eye. But not on A.M. This ugly display of violence in the home shook Charlie to the core, so much that he opened up about it at his other therapy group in prison, comprised of some goofs who also likely murdered people.
Through some conveniently surprising wording ("hey I just talked myself into a plot point!"), Charlie came to the realization that he himself was in need of therapy. Let me repeat that: The therapist needs…therapy! WHAAA? Calm down folks. It's just BAFTA-quality writing. After saying "So long, suckers!" to the perps, Charlie headed home to pop some brews and chow down on some tasty pretzies with his best bud and neighbor to seriously discuss the possibility of returning to therapy.
The only foreseeable problem was that Kate was the one therapist he trusted (huh?). So Charlie was faced with the ages-old problem of giving up a sure bang in exchange for the healing his heart so sorely needed. After all, he did almost smash a man's brains in before his daughter's very eyes. In the end there was some thing about therapists not taking advantage of patients, except if those same therapists were patients to each other to create equality. I don't know, but it did end in Selma Blair getting to taste God knows what residual flavors are souring up this dude's mouth (I bet metal and Tapatio hot sauce). SMOOCH!
Luckily when the credits rolled, it was NOT time to head to the garage and take apart car batteries out of boredom, because next up came Episode 2: "Charlie and the Slumpbuster."
Did I mention Brett Butler plays a lady bartender on this show? Remember how she got kicked off Grace Under Fire for some pretty unseemly behavior? But hey, the woman's trying nowadays and that's more than can be said for a lot of us. Still she's on the show because of her history, and I say "good." For my money, A.M. should go for broke and replace every cast member with some kind of famous burnout. Take note, Talking Cigars with Clown Noses Who Write this Show, it is not too late for Lindsay Lohan to guest as Charlie Goodson's illegitimate daughter. Anyway, this second episode opened on a date between Charlie and this P.Y.T. who existed only to show what kind of ditzes he's been into lately (literally).
She was being kind of an airhead and Charlie put up with it because I'm sure he just wanted to play doctor with her (wink wink…gross). But wouldn't you know it, his dear child and her mother showed up and made the exact same expression I made at the coincidence that they would all run into each other at the very same bistro.
So anyway, Charlie felt like a real A-hole that his daughter figured him for a man who just likes to bang idiots, no matter the cost (bistro prices). Then the next day Charlie's home stereopy group welcomed a new soul named Mel (played by Kerri Kenney)
She was down in the dumps after undergoing cosmetic surgery because some baseball player whom she did the deed with broke her heart. Everyone in the group said they could relate to having their hearts broken by someone in which they had placed hope and trust. Then the old-timer made a joke:
Timely! When the group regained its composure from all the crazy laughter that definitely ensued, Mel called out Charlie for being that self-same ball-player. Turns out, back in her hometown of Beloit, Wisconsin, Charlie had used her as a the titular "Slumpbuster," a.k.a. an unattractive woman baseball players purposely sleep with to break a losing streak. This show should be so lucky to get a comedic pro like Kerri Kenney on board. It says a lot that the only line that made me laugh out loud came from Kenney and solely had to do with her delivery (and got the smallest laugh-track response): "Sorry I'm late. I couldn't find the house. And then I found it." Trust me it was funny when she said it.
What made me pretty uncomfortable about this storyline was how every single character agreed on the alleged hideousness of what was really just a silly costumed woman who frowned. Basically it sucks that there's this character whose role it is to make Charlie squirm because of her looks. He's the real dirtbag here. Whoops, just fell off my soapbox. Okay, Charlie had the excellent scheme to cook Mel dinner so she didn't feel so bad about the whole thing. Problem was however, Charlie didn't know how to make spaghetti?
Yeah for serious, this grown man was like, "There are no instructions. It's like door knobs, you're just supposed to know what to do." Then fifteen seconds later he figured out that there were directions on the box. Okay.
Long story short, the dinner turned into a full-on rouse where Mel thought she and Charlie were dating and everyone in his world got a big ol' kick out of it—how funny it was to see him going around with some broken person. Finally things escalated to the point where Mel surprised Charlie, bare-assed in his own kitchen ready to share carnal knowledge.
Then he was like "Pump the brakes, look you really were just another superstitious lay on my part and I am sorry." Then she was okay with that version of the truth, and in the end he was a good dad.
It's easy to focus on what doesn't work about this show, so I'll try and keep that part brief: everything! No just kidding. It's a pretty neat experiment to build the awareness of a gawking public into the DNA of a program. But it seems like this show is part of Sheen's therapy back into celebrity normalcy. The flare-up got us watching, but business as usual is not going to keep us paying attention. Sometimes the jokes almost hover closer to "edgy," but they're quickly snapped back into familiar and safe territory with this weird need to moralize within the story. I say make him 100 percent indulgent; then the fun will come from watching his world collapse around him, laugh track and all. I mean, that's the reason we watched the first time anyway.
– What does Anger Management bring to the table that other shows don't?
– Is this the greatest show on Earth?
– Is this a good show to just check out to?
– Is life worth living if you just want to check out to bad TV?
– Is Charlie Sheen just rusty?
– Is this his swan song?