In the press photos for the new FX sitcom "Anger Management," series star Charlie Sheen is pictured walking away from a colossal, smoking trainwreck, unscathed and smirking. Succinct commentary, that.
As the series opens with back-to-back installments tonight, Sheen's character, Charlie Goodson, is directly addressing the camera saying "You can't fire me. I quit. You think you can replace me with some other guy? Go ahead, it won't be the same. You may think I'm losing but I'm not, I'm. . ."
Before he can utter the insanely grating and ubiquitous single-word catchphrase that defined Sheen's very public tantrum/meltdown last year following his firing from "Two and a Half Men" and eventual replacement by Ashton Kutcher, the camera pulls back to show us that Goodson is talking to "Bobo." It's the punching-bag dummy he uses in his therapy practice to help people work out their issues.
And therein lies the problem with "Anger Management," everybody's in on the joke but nobody seems to be writing any. Instead of giving Charlie Goodson anything particularly funny to say or do, the creative team simply presents premises as punch lines: Charlie was angry. Charlie was a womanizer. Charlie was a spoiled celebrity.
Any sense of frisson derived from the parallels to Sheen's real, tiger-blood-infused life is diminished by the fact that he's traveled this road several times already onscreen and twice on television with "Spin City" and "Two and a Half Men." (And as a side note: Can Sheen really not answer to any character name other than Charlie?)
If the series was actually a disaster, that might at least be captivating, but as is, "Anger Management" is just an average sitcom with a few good laugh lines here and there that could star any middle-age actor as a former baseball player to whom much was given and who now is trying to give back in his own anger management private practice and pro bono work with a group in state prison. (The show is nominally related to the 2003 Jack Nicholson-Adam Sandler film of the same name.)
Sheen himself, is, typically, perfectly adequate, looking comparatively robust and hitting his marks and delivering his lines with the same kind of off-handed smarm and charm he employed as the slightly less evolved Charlie Harper.
"Anger Management" surrounds Sheen with a huge cast, only a handful of whom are given funny lines. They include the quartet of patients in his home group (including a passive-aggressive gay man and the curmudgeonly old homophobe with whom he bickers), a larger prison group, his ex-wife Jen (a terrific Shawnee Smith working harder than everyone here), his teenage daughter Sam (Daniela Bobadilla), his horny neighbor Michael (former "Spin City" costar Michael Boatman), his best friend-with-benefits/therapist Kate (Selma Blair), and his bartender confidant Brett (Brett Butler in her own self-reflexive send-up.)
At one point during the second episode, when Charlie discovers that his wacky new patient is actually a woman he wronged years ago seeking her vengeance, one of his other patients asks "Who didn't see that coming?" The answer is no one. Unless you're a Sheen loyalist, there is no light at the end of the "Anger Management" tunnel, it's only a train. We recommend getting out of the way.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.