Imagine being angry. So angry that a judge makes you get therapy to avoid jail time.
Then, when you show up for your first appointment, the therapist is Charlie Sheen. That would be funny, right? Or at least surreal. Edgy and naughty. Something.
And if the experience turned out to be sort of obvious and ho-hum, well that might make you angry.
“Anger Management,” Sheen’s new FX sitcom debuting Thursday, turns our favorite warlock into an ex-pro catcher whose career ended with a self-inflicted shattered kneecap. The show has the potential to bring Sheen back to the bigs, but the first few innings are rough.
Charlie Harper of “Two and a Half Men” has given way to Charlie Goodson, a guy barely keeping his own anger under control while running group therapy sessions out of his house.
The funniest spot on that couch is occupied by supreme curmudgeon Ed (Barry Corbin of “Northern Exposure”), who isn’t taking retirement — or the 21st century — in stride. Charlie also helps a group of inmates, and the incarcerated guys are saltier and funnier than their free counterparts.
Charlie Goodson is an older, wiser Charlie Harper, but he also goes for young, stupid women. This “new” Charlie doesn’t have the silly shirts of his former show, but he does gain an ex-wife (a bored Shawnee Smith) and a teenage daughter named Sam (Daniela Bobadilla).
Charlie’s most interesting relationship is with his best friend Kate (an underused Selma Blair). They have a lot going on, but “Anger Management” should focus less on the making out and more on the hanging out, so Charlie can say more things like, “If you’re just going to stand there drinking beer and criticizing me, could you at least take off your top?”
The plan, Sheen says, is for “Anger Management” to make it into syndication by 2014, but the deal to make the magic number of 100 episodes is tied to ratings. Sandwiched into FX’s new Thursday comedy block (“Two and a Half Men” reruns before, then “Wilfred” and “Louie” afterward) the show has a decent chance of fans sticking around long enough for the kinks to work themselves out.
“Anger Management” finds its comedic feet more solidly in the second episode, but a lot of screen time is devoted to an over-the-top, “Saturday Night Live”-esque guest performance from Kerri Kenney (“Reno 911!”). (The pilot has a funny one-off from Brian Austin Green, so let’s hope this is a pattern.)
FX was able to bring a lot of TV veterans on board, including Brett Butler as Charlie’s acerbic bartender Brett, and Michael Boatman of “Spin City” as a lecherous neighbor named Michael. Funny folks still want to work with Sheen, especially if they don’t have to learn different names.
The show’s writers aren’t expecting us to have forgotten the Great Celebrity Meltdown of 2011; it gets a chuckle before the pilot’s title card flashes.
Fine, “Anger Management” seems to be saying, we get it, our star was out there for a while. Still kinda is. Sheen just told the New York Times, “I don’t know what clean is.”
So why does “Anger Management” feel watered down? It’s on FX, which lets shows with shakier pedigrees curse and sin up a storm. Even as Sheen assumes the straight-man role again, surely no one is stopping “Anger” from waving its machete a bit. Come on. Bring the crazy.