Sheen fights rage in "Anger Management"

Charlie Sheen as Charlie Goodson and Selma Blair as Kate Wales in "Anger Management." Adam Rose / FX
Charlie Sheen as Charlie Goodson and Selma Blair as Kate Wales in "Anger Management." Adam Rose / FX
Posted: June 29, 2012

These are strange times indeed, folks, in the celebrity game. The worst publicity has now become the best kind of publicity you can get.

Every time this month, for instance, that TMZ sent out a new gossip bulletin on Lindsay Lohan was a red-letter day for Lifetime. It represented another quarter-million viewers for the Liz Taylor biopic Lohan is currently shooting for the channel.

Or take Charlie Sheen. After one of the most depraved runs of misbehavior by a major performer ever, he returns in a new sitcom to rapt curiosity and surprising good will.

Rest assured, the wild man has left the building. In Anger Management, you get the new, reformed Sheen. Which, not coincidentally, is the premise of the show.

Charlie (Yes, Sheen is once again playing a character named Charlie, as he did in Two and a Half Men and in Spin City) is a former rageaholic who has learned the error of his ways. In fact, he's now a calm, mature therapist helping other troubled souls through anger management treatment.

This is a sitcom that wears its influences — and it has a ton of them — proudly. And it's stocked with old TV comedy pros. That's why the show feels as comfortable as an old pair of slippers before the first commercial break. (After back-to-back episodes tonight at 9 p.m. on FX, Anger Management will assume its regular slot at 9:30 p.m. next week.)

The group sessions Charlie conducts in his home should remind you of the therapy patients on The Bob Newhart Show. Charlie's precocious teen daughter not only has the same name, Sam, as did Tony Danza's daughter in Who's the Boss?, the actress, Daniela Bobadilla, even looks like a young Alyssa Milano.

Executive producer Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show) has given Sheen a remarkable amount of support. (Weird trivia detour: One of the show's co-executive producers is former New York Met Todd Zeile.)

Besides Charlie's home therapy group (which includes Barry Corbin as a cranky old man and Noureen DeWulf as a hot-tempered young woman), he conducts a regular prison group. He's got an ex-wife (Shawnee Smith, of Becker) and a best friend (Selma Blair) with occasional benefits. He's got a friendly neighbor (Michael Boatman, an old colleague from Spin City) and a salty favorite bartender (Brett Butler, of Grace Under Fire, making a winning return to prime time).

So Sheen's dance card is pretty full. Actually, he doesn't need all those partners. This role is perfectly tailored to showcase his unruffled comedy style. As in Two and Half a Men, Sheen plays a guy with strong appetites who gets the joke even when he's the punchline.

Because of the title and Sheen's volatile reputation, you tune in to this show anticipating something sensationalistic. But Helford isn't attempting to reinvent the wheel here, just adding some raunchier language and kinkier gags to the standard formula.

Anger Management turns out to be a likable, nicely loaded sitcom. The forecast for Sheen? Sunny with only a slight chance of meltdown.

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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