Charlie Sheen's appearance raises question: Is FX's Anger Management smart business or bad enabling?
LOS ANGELES -- Twitching and squirming, there was not a star who looked less comfortable in his skin than Charlie Sheen did Saturday morning.
Facing critics here to discuss his new sitcom, Anger Management, he had to know it wasn't a friendly room. The show has garnered a pile of harsh reviews since its debut last month, and some critics still choke on the idea that a man with a long history of substance abuse issues and fighting with romantic partners could build a public image as a harmless raconteur.
But ask him how his life is different now -- past the most epic public meltdown in history -- to ensure he might not lose it again, and you don't get a very insightful answer.
"It was sort of like a dream I couldn’t wake up from or some runaway train I couldn’t get off of, but I was the conductor, you know," Sheen said, fidgeting in his chair so much, he accidentally pulled off his clip-on microphone. "It was something that could never happen again, so that was pretty cool. Not that anybody wants it to, including me. I learned a lot. I learned stick to what you know. Don’t go on the road with a one man show in 33 days in 21 cities with no act. (Laughter.) No act. Warning. So, yeah. So my life’s different now that I’m not insane anymore."
Watching the press session unfold, as executive producer Bruce Helford (The Drew Carey Show, The George Lopez Show) seemed to act as both translator and handler, you had to wonder: Was this a business deal with a TV superstar or the enabling of a guy hanging on by his fingernails?
"I know that this group of people didn’t like it all that well, at least judging by your reviews," said FX president John Landgraf, speaking to critics before Sheen took the stage. "But, look, some of you reviewed it in the context of, you know, comparing it to LOUIE or comparing it to WILFRED or comparing it to ARCHER. And, you know, with due respect, I think its fair comparisons really are to — you know, to “Two and a Half Men” and “2 Broke Girls” and “Mike & Molly” and multicamera shows. And in that regard, I think it’s developing really nicely. I think it will stand very fairly and very squarely in with four camera sitcoms."
Of course, those shows Landgraf mentioned are also sitcoms that critics don't think much of, creatively.
What we think may not matter; according to FX, Anger Management has been drawing 13.8 million viewers and 7.1 million viewers in the advertiser-friendly age of 18 to 49. Those numbers are two to three times the viewership of critically-lauded FX shows such as Louie, Archer and Justified.
If the show keeps its current viewership, FX must decide if it will make 90 more episodes after the first 10 finish airing. If those "back 90" episodes get picked up, then Sheen's father, former West Wing star Martin Sheen, will join the cast as his father.
"It’s just the people that you’re the closest with you go the farthest from," said Sheen, whose sister and brother also work on the show. "So why don’t I just bring them all to work? Just bring them all to work."
Clad in plaid shorts and a wrinkled shirt, Sheen looked a bit like had just rolled out of bed and walked into the session. After the formal questioning ended, he donned a pair of black-rimmed glasses which gave him a vague Nicholsonian look, especially considering his rapid-fire speech pattern, as if his thoughts were moving too fast to be sifted into sentences.
And for critics who have wondered why the show feels so awkward at times, Helford offered a clue: Scenes in the first 10 episodes were filmed out of order, without rehearsal, leaving actors unsure where scenes were going on what their characters were doing.
"Almost every actor came to me at some given point and said, 'What am I doing?' because they never had the chance to feel the entire play," Helford said. "Usually when you do a multicamera sitcom, you do the whole play in order for an audience. There’s no audience there. So more like film style, it’s out of order...It's a difficult process."
What critics never learned during his time with us, is how Sheen has changed his life to keep to old headlines -- massive partying, fighting with producers, clashing with ex-wives, gathering multiple girlfriend "goddesses" -- from emerging again.
"Anything I’m doing is fun, as far as I’m concerned," Sheen said. "It’s how it’s interpreted that I have an issue with. I don’t look at it as chaos. I look at it as challenges and things in the moment that have to be dealt with. And, you know, it’s all about choices, and sometimes you don’t always make the right choice."
Some folks might say that sounds like denial. But FX seems ready to make a 90-episode gamble on Sheen keeping his psyche together at least long enough to create another marketable TV franchise.