It came as no surprise to learn that, mere weeks after getting fired from the top-rated “Two and a Half Men” for his easily demonstrable bad behavior, Charlie Sheen landed another sitcom at a rival network. If there’s one thing today’s pop cultural landscape rewards, time and again, it’s bad behavior. Another thing that it rewards: mediocrity.
There was a time when Charlie Sheen was a credible actor. (That time was between 1986’s Platoon and 1989’s Major League, before films like Hot Shots! Part Deux, Major League II and All Dogs Go to Heaven 2 eroded whatever acting skill he possessed.) There was also a time when cavorting with adult film actors was considered “shocking.” Basically, nothing Charlie Sheen’s done since the start of the ’90s—be it appearing in Scary Movie 4, being named a client of Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss, popping in and out of rehab, claiming “Adonis DNA,” moving in with his porn star “Goddesses,” hosting the 12th annual Gathering of the Juggalos, embarking on the “Violent Torpedo of Truth” tour—has been the least bit interesting.
And yet, mainstream America heartily embraced Mr. Sheen as the highest paid actor on television, star of the highly rated, long-running CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men.” The key to the show’s success? Generic, laughtrack-amplified jokes and loads of free publicity from its TMZ-fueled star.
Apparently, CBS’ loss was FX’s gain. Less than a year after Warner Bros. (producers of “Two and a Half Men”) fired Sheen, he was snapped up by the FOX Network’s cable arm to headline “Anger Management,” a hastily assembled spin-off of the 2003 movie starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson. Like “Two and a Half Men” before it, “Anger Management” is a tribute to the power of mediocrity.
About the only thing “Anger Management” has in common with Anger Management is its title. Sheen stars as Charlie Goodson, a hotheaded ex-baseball player who starts his own anger management encounter group. As expected, the show plays off Sheen’s public persona, making frequent references to his character’s boozing, womanizing ways. (Just like “2&1/2M.”) When Charlie (the character, mind you) isn’t casually sleeping with his best friend with benefits / therapist Dr. Kate Wales (Selma Blair, who deserves better), he tries to have sex with every female who crosses his path. It’s a mark of the show’s sophistication that the act of sexual congress is referred to as “boning.” What salty language! My mother would be appalled. Strip away the faux edgy language, however, and the plots (Charlie “bones” one of Dr. Kate’s clients and tries to keep it a secret, Charlie “bones” his ex-wife’s business partner and tries to keep it a secret) resemble nothing more than recycled storylines from “Three’s Company.”
When it debuted on June 28, “Anger Management” broke records as the most-watched sitcom premiere in cable history. Ratings have dipped to about half their season-opening high, but they still constitute millions of viewers. Obviously, people like braying laugh tracks, lame sex jokes and shots of Charlie Sheen sitting on a couch. Once again, the idiot box underestimates us. Once again, we prove that it should.