Charlie Sheen gets upstaged by an overworked laugh track on “Anger Management,” the actor’s latest wasted opportunity.
Squandering cable TV’s freedom -- the comeback series airs on FX, home to a small roster of edgy comedies like “Louie” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” -- Sheen delivers a stupefyingly lazy, formulaic show.
In-jokes that would have been stale a year ago arrive like hangovers. The hot-headed actor, famously fired last year from CBS’s hit comedy “Two and a Half Men,” here plays Charlie Goodson, an anger management therapist.
Like “The Bob Newhart Show” (sorry, Bob), “Anger” depicts the head-shrinking Charlie at work and home. His group therapy gang is a collection of sitcom types, including a hot chick in tight tops, a milquetoast dude, a curmudgeon and a sarcastic, queeny gay guy.
He also counsels a group at a local prison. There’s a queeny gay guy in that bunch, too.
At home, Charlie struggles to resolve his own anger issues (he blew an early baseball career by breaking a bat over his knee). He has a sensible ex-wife, a 15-year-old daughter with O.C.D. and a gorgeous best friend, played by Selma Blair, who happens to be his own therapist “with benefits.”
Like “Two and a Half Men,” the punchlines here are discernible only by the hair-trigger laugh track: “When you use a soup can lid to cut off your cellmate’s head, that’s anger” lands a huge guffaw.
In the second episode (of two available for review), Charlie reluctantly dates a former “slump buster” played by Kerri Kenney of “Reno 911.” Never mind the phrase -- the joke is that she’s homely and not up to Charlie’s usual standards.
Again, that’s the joke.
From the phony-looking sets to the Comedy 101 performances, “Anger Management” is a baffling disappointment. With his train-wreck charisma and coiled nerves, the Sheen of “Two and a Half Men” always seemed like a mischief-maker only pretending to be a sitcom hack.
On FX he had the chance to unleash himself and show what a man with tiger blood really looks like. Who knew he’d actually be just a sitcom hack?
“Anger Management” airs Thursday on FX at 9 p.m. New York time and moves to 9:30 p.m. the following week. Rating: (Zero stars).
Returning to FX the same night, Louis C.K.’s idiosyncratic “Louie” looks all the better for it.
The smart, bone-dry comedy about the travails of a New York City comic begins its third season with a terrific 10-minute scene remarkable for what it doesn’t say.
Louie, played by C.K. (who also writes and directs), sits at a diner with April, his girlfriend of six months (played by Gaby Hoffman). He’s distracted by the possibility of getting a parking ticket, but April interprets his distance as portending a break-up.
In what amounts to a monologue interrupted only by Louie’s occasional stammers and half-utterances, Hoffman’s April moves from surprise to grief to acceptance.
As she guesses her way through the round of “relationship charades,” the clueless Louie slowly realizes his girlfriend is giving him the words he’d never find himself. What could be a silly comic routine becomes a small gem of writing and acting.
“Louie” doesn’t always hit its marks -- an upcoming episode about Louie’s man crush on a hunky Cuban lifeguard feels like a very long set-up for a minor payoff.
But when it does, as in a poignant two-part episode later this season featuring Parker Posey as a captivating but troubled new acquaintance, “Louie” ranks among the best comedies on TV.
“Louie” airs Thursday on FX at 10:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and James Pressley on books.