It's as if Charlie Sheen never left TV.
And no, that's not a compliment.
True, Charlie Goodson of Anger Management (*½ out of four, FX, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET/PT) is not exactly Two and a Half Men's Charlie Harper. Goodson is a former ballplayer turned therapist, with an ex-wife and a teenage daughter he loves, so he's clearly a more responsible, somewhat more caring person than the late Harper.
Still, similarities predominate: a sex drive that is locked on full throttle, a recurring nasty streak, a throwaway delivery that sometimes smacks of laziness, and an increasingly odd and unjustifed claim to irresistability. What unites these Charlies - at least the fictional versions - is a chronic failure to self-scrutinize, coupled with a corresponding lack of awareness that, thanks to the aging process, the act is growing old.
On the plus side for Sheen, at least this act is far preferable to the one he treated the nation to in his post-Men interview tour. And it must be said that Sheen, when he's focused and under control, can be an engaging performer, one who has most likely retained a sizable fan base.
Alas, what those fans are about to discover is that Goodson is a less amusing character than the one Chuck Lorre created for Sheen at Men, and that Sheen's new show is a pale substitute for his old one at its height, and not much of an improvement on Men at its depth. Worse yet, watching Sheen's interactions with Selma Blair as his best-friend-with-benefits and Shawnee Smith as his ex-wife may make you wonder whether much of the credit we gave to Sheen for Men's pace and chemistry belonged to Jon Cryer, Conchatta Ferrell, Holland Taylor and the much-missed Melanie Lynskey.
Produced by Bruce Helford and very loosely based on the film of the same name, Anger's central joke is that Charlie is an anger management specialist with anger management issues. When not sparring with his ex-wife, he's leading his therapy group (a painful collection of stereotypes whose scenes land with a thud) and attempting, successfully, to have sex with his own therapist (Blair). He also chats with a bartender played by Brett Butler, who shares a Lorre connection thanks to Grace Under Fire, a show that collapsed as she self-destructed.
The first episode in tonight's double run is flat, but not offensive. That dubious achievement is reached by the stupid, misogynistic second outing, which revolves around an ugly woman Charlie slept with back in his baseball days to stop a slump, a joke that is far uglier than the woman could ever be.
Some may think Anger is a curious fit for FX, but you can't blame networks for trying to expand their reach. And you can't complain if the show funnels a larger audience to Wilfred and Louie. The proximity just isn't doing any favors for Anger Management, which looks even more old-school and clunky than it otherwise might in comparison.
That's not a compliment, either.