Charlie Sheen returns to TV with "Anger Management"

Charlie Sheen (left) with Selma Blair, who portrays his best friend-with-benefits in his new FX show "Anger Management."
Charlie Sheen (left) with Selma Blair, who portrays his best friend-with-benefits in his new FX show "Anger Management."
Posted: June 28, 2012

ANGER MANAGEMENT. 9 p.m. Thursday, FX.

CHARLIE SHEEN'S always been a bit like StarKist's Charlie the Tuna: No one wants him for his good taste.

Certainly FX, which in the wake of the former "Two and a Half Men" star's nasty divorce from CBS picked up 10 episodes of his new comedy — with an option for 90 more — wouldn't expect "Anger Management" to be "Frasier."

Home to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "Sons of Anarchy" as well as to "Wilfred," "Louie" and the new "Brand X with Russell Brand" (all three of which follow a double-shot of Sheen's new show on Thursday), FX is about as safe a zone for bad boys as you're going to find on basic cable.

Which is why the most shocking thing about "Anger Management" is that while it's not always in the very best of taste, it would probably play well on CBS.

Sheen's portraying therapist Charlie Goodson — a Freudian slip of a name if ever I heard one — in a sitcom that not only has a laugh track but isn't exactly staffed like the kind of low-budget start-up that's made FX's name in comedy. (FX doesn't own the show, which is produced by Lionsgate.)

Showrunner Bruce Helford's credits include "The Drew Carey Show," which he co-created. Brett Butler, who once had a network sitcom (and troubles) of her own, plays a bartender. Selma Blair is Charlie's old therapist and best friend-with-benefits. Michael Boatman ("The Good Wife") is a neighbor, and Charlie's two therapy groups include the likes of Barry Corbin ("The Closer") and Darius McCrary, whose sitcom roots go all the way back to "Family Matters."

So while the canned laughter is annoying, the show doesn't look or feel like something put together on a shoestring or on the kind of accelerated production schedule the deal demands.

And, yeah, it's funny. Not sophisticated funny, where you feel smart for getting the joke. Not I-can't-believe-they-said-or-did-that-on-TV funny. But funny in that way where you might see the joke hanging there and even if it's a little bit obvious, you're happy enough when the actor hits it.

Sheen, whose character is a former baseball player with anger issues, swings at just about everything in "Anger Management" and hits more than he misses. Helford's given his character an ex-wife (Shawnee Smith) who's a bit immature but not glaringly stupid and a daughter with OCD (Daniela Bobadilla) whose opinion of him seems to matter. There are things about the second episode that made me wince, but Sheen's character seemed to be trying, at least, to make a point.

For the sake of my ever-crashing email, please don't take this as an endorsement of the way the actor has lived his life or of the manner in which he's related to women, his bosses, small forest animals or to substances, controlled or otherwise. When I turn off the set at night, I like to pretend the people inside it have ceased to exist.

Sheen has made that difficult, particularly in his final year or so on CBS, when his offscreen life began to look like the prelude to the kind of obituary in which the people paying him millions might have had a hard time saying they hadn't seen it coming.

Things on-screen weren't so pretty, either. I'd tune in once in a while to find him looking not completely awake. Maybe it was the drugs. Or the partying. Maybe he was just bored; I know I'd been bored with "Two and a Half Men" for years.

I've seen two episodes of "Anger Management," and in each Sheen looked like a guy whose head was in the game.

Who knows where he or Charlie Goodson will be in eight — or 88 — episodes? Best, as always, to take these things one day at a time.

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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