ANGER MANAGEMENT: Thursday 9:30PM on FX - Change the Channel
The most interesting thing about ANGER MANAGEMENT–by far–is the deal that put it on the air. When Charlie Sheen found himself at liberty, following his low-key and barely even noticed departure from 2 1/2 Men, he clearly wanted a shot at a payday that would make even his Men bucks look like so many postage stamps. He hooked up with Debney-Mercury, which is part of Lionsgate Television. That company distributes cable TV comedies like Are We There Yet?, Meet the Browns and House of Payne on a business plan based on bulk. Networks that license their shows pay a reduced per-episode fee in exchange for a very large episodic order–the economies of scale enable the studio to keep the budget down and the profits up. Anger Management, though, was never going to be an inexpensive show, thanks to the participation of Sheen (and Bruce Helford, a showrunner with 25 years experience whose resume includes The Drew Carey Show).
Debney-Mercury/Lionsgate worked out a variation on their usual deal with FX. The network committed to an initial 10 episode order on the basis of Helford’s pilot script (and, of course, Sheen being the star), which will run through the summer. The deal contains certain specified (but non-public) ratings benchmarks, and if the 10-episode run meets those marks, FX is obligated to order–make sure you’re sitting down–90 additional episodes, a giant commitment of over $100M. No doubt the show’s premiere numbers, an average for 2 back-to-back episodes of a 2.2 18-49 rating and total viewership of over 5.5M people, more than met the required marks. That, however, was to be expected, given Sheen’s tabloid appeal and public curiosity about him (the network’s promo campaign for the show has gleefully played on Sheen’s reputation), and it’s the reason FX wanted the ability to run 10 episodes before it had to pull the trigger. Future episodes will tell the tale.
Anger Management is tonally unlike any other comedy on FX, a network that’s built its comedy brand on idiosyncratic shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Wilfred, Archer and Louie. Anger Management, in contrast, is an extremely old-fashioned multi-camera, laugh-track comedy that would be right at home in Sheen’s old CBS Monday night line-up. The show takes nothing more from the 2003 Adam Sandler/Jack Nicholson movie than the notion of an anger management therapist who himself has trouble restraining his temper, but Sheen’s Charlie Goodson is far less farcially conceived than Nicholson’s character in the movie. The show’s Charlie is more an echo of Sheen’s other famous roles: he’s a mostly amiable ex-ballplayer (shades of Major League) who ruined his own pro ball career by breaking a bat over his knee during a tantrum; now he runs a practice out of his home, has a warmhearted if occasionally snippy relationship with his ex-wife Jennifer (Shawnee Smith) and teen daughter Sam (Daniela Bobadilla), and mostly dates bimbos a la 2 1/2 Men.
The official pilot, written by Helford and directed by Andy Cadiff, serves to introduce the characters. Charlie’s therapy group has the usual sitcom cross-section: a conservative Vietnam vet (Barry Corbin), a moderately effeminate gay man (Michael Arden), a slacker (Derek Richardson, from Men In Trees), and a woman (Noureen DeWolf) who, as we’re repeatedly told to shrieking laugh-track response, shot her cheating boyfriend in the balls. The other major role is Kate (Selma Blair), also a therapist and Charlie’s best friend, with whom he has uncomplicated sex. The pilot’s central conflict is Charlie’s decision, after he’s gotten angry with Jennifer’s boyfriend (guest star Brian Austin Green), that he needs to go back into therapy himself, but the only therapist he trusts is Kate–and while he knows a therapist shouldn’t sleep with her patients, he would very much like her to both analyze and bed him. Naturally, after very little persuasion she ends up agreeing,
The second episode, written by Kristy Grant and directed by Gerry Cohen, is a little uglier. In this one, Charlie is besieged by a woman who was his “slumpbuster” as a minor league player in Beloit, someone whose unattractiveness was supposed to help his hitting. (Weirdly, the same superstition was the basis for a recent Necessary Roughness episode, although that one played out in a more kindhearted way.) The woman is obsessed with Charlie and has had many rounds of plastic surgery (which have still left her below Charlie’s standards) in the hope that he’ll return her feelings, while he just wants to get rid of her–but is forced, thanks to Jennifer’s prank, to pretend he’s really her boyfriend, which gets the woman’s stalker-ish hopes up. Although of course in the end everyone’s fine, it’s still a half-hour whose gags are built mostly on the horror and inevitable craziness of a woman who isn’t sex-worthy for Charlie.
People who enjoy comedies like 2 1/2 Men may well find something to laugh about in Anger Management; to one who isn’t a fan of that genre, it’s passably professional but completely unfunny and predictable, a collection of clunky set-ups followed by obvious punchlines. The cast is capable enough (Sheen and Shawnee Smith, in particular, have a nice on-screen repport), the pace is smooth, but the show is devoid of real humor, let alone human characterization or narrative surprise.
It’s hardly a shock that half Anger Management‘s audience fled when Wilfred started last week, and almost half of those who’d stayed couldn’t handle Louie. Although all 3 are called “comedies,” for all intents and purposes they’re different species of show. The deal is the sole important driver for Anger Management, and for those of us who aren’t profit participants, there’s no reason to watch.