Since “Anger Management” boils down to “The Bob Newhart Show” with more sex jokes, critics will likely be tempted to write about numerous topics peripherally related to the actual show. These include, but are not limited to, how Charlie Sheen looks (OK), whether the series will provide him post-“Two and a Half Men” redemption (we’ll see), and if the insurance risk associated with constructing a program around him is worth the potential reward. All those points, alas, are more interesting than the series, which is competently executed, but — thanks to Sheen’s colorful past — almost entirely beside the point.
Showrunner Bruce Helford does deserve considerable credit for creating such a dense support system around his star, who — perhaps eager to show he can still hit his mark and deadpan a line — carries plenty of the load by appearing in virtually every scene in the first two half-hours, which FX will premiere back-to-back to jumpstart its summer comedy block.
Sheen plays Charlie Goodson (conspiracy theorists will wonder why he always shares a name with his sitcom alter ego), a therapist who counsels an anger-management group consisting of the customary wacky characters. He’s also a divorced dad with an ex-wife (Shawnee Smith) and vulnerable daughter (Daniela Bobadilla), and has a hot non-committed sex buddy (Selma Blair) who also happens to be a therapist.
But it doesn’t end there. Charlie is a former pro baseball player (presumably to make a subconscious “Major League” connection) with his own anger-related issues; works out of home (former “Spin City” co-star Michael Boatman plays his neighbor); counsels a prison group; and still finds time to cat around, taking his dates to a local watering hole where the bartender (Brett Butler), if not everyone, knows his name.
This is, quite simply, a Frankencom, stitched together from pieces of other comedies. To their credit, Sheen, the talented cast and seasoned writers know how to make it all look slick and polished, even if there’s nary an original bone in its body — down to the audience’s excessively boisterous laughter.
That said, the show takes a nasty turn in the second episode, in which Charlie is confronted by a needy woman he slept with years earlier. Mostly, it consists of insult comedy (see, she’s ugly, heh-heh) that would have been dated in Newhart’s day.
The combination of a big-name star/tabloid oddity and such broad material might be a successful formula by basic-cable standards — and certainly sampling-wise, given the inevitable curiosity Sheen generates. It’s nevertheless a slightly awkward fit with FX’s other comedies, the centerpiece of which (qualitatively, anyway) is the much-superior, risk-taking “Louie,” along with the darkly peculiar “Wilfred.”
So in essence, the parties are using Sheen — FX as a launching pad, Lionsgate/Debmar-Mercury as a possible syndication payday — just as he’s using them to rehab his career.
It might work out all around. But if there’s any excitement surrounding “Anger Management,” the Tiger’s blood is in those details, not in the show itself.