So, what's the key ingredient that defines a "winning!" TV sitcom?
A bankable star? A believable premise? A solid supporting cast? Huge ratings success and the financial windfall that follows? A lengthy prime-time run?
Or something as simple as just being a funny show?
As far as Charlie Sheen's latest comedy effort, Anger Management, is concerned, Canadian viewers will get to decide for themselves this weekend when CTV -- rights-holders to the made-for-U.S.-cable comedy -- serves up a sneak preview of the show in the coveted slot after Sunday afternoon's Olympics closing ceremony (approximate airtime is 6 p.m.).
The FX series, which will have its official Canadian première on Sept. 11 on CTV, is a bit like Sheen's previous sitcom, CBS's enormously successful Two and a Half Men, in that it seeks to capitalize on its star's off-screen antics and reputation by having Sheen play a character that isn't all that far removed from his real-life self.
In this case, he's cast as Charlie Goodson, a former pro baseball player whose career was cut short by an anger-driven self-inflicted injury (his raging attempt to break a bat in half resulted in a torn-up knee). Robbed (by his own stupidity) of his athletic aspirations, he went back to school and became a therapist specializing in anger-management issues.
That's the framework; the rest -- like Two and a Half Men -- is pretty much standard sitcom-blueprint execution.
The series première opens with Sheen, as Goodson, taking a not-so-subtle shot at his former real-life employers. Staring straight into the camera, he seethes, "You can't fire me -- I quit! Think you can replace me with another guy? Go ahead -- it won't be the same. You may think I'm losing, but I'm not -- I'm..." and then the camera pulls back to reveal that therapist Charlie is showing his court-ordered clients an effective way of using an punching-bag dummy to relieve stress.
Cue the laugh track, for the first of many, many overwrought times.
Charlie -- hardly surprisingly, in sitcom-premise terms -- turns out to be a therapist who probably needs help even more than his clients do. He's having issues with his teenage daughter, with his ex-wife, and with his ex-wife's new boyfriend, whom he believes could be a bad influence on his impressionable adolescent young'un.
And when a discussion about the merits of a college education gets heated, Charlie picks up a lamp with the intention of whacking Mr. Slacker New Boyfriend in the head with it. He stops himself, but realizes he'd better get help before he loses it completely.
Unfortunately for Charlie (but conveniently for the writers' room), the only therapist he trusts with his deepest secrets is his best pal, Kate (Selma Blair), with whom he's also carrying on a rather frisky friends-with-benefits relationship.
And she's one of those annoyingly ethical types who believes it's unacceptable for therapists to sleep with their patients, so Charlie's forced to decide whether it's his head or a more southerly destination that she's going to treat.
It's all very, well, predictable. And not particularly hilarious, though you'd never know that from the volume and frequency of the laugh-track insertions.
Sheen is what he has always been, in TV-comedy terms -- a guy who can hit his marks and deliver his lines in an efficient if somewhat effort-restrained manner. The supporting cast is able, but there's no one in Charlie's collection of lovably loony clients that could match neuroses with the memorable bunch from The Bob Newhart Show.
Anger Management is an average, sort-of-OK, occasionally amusing comedy that would likely have attracted very little attention if its star hadn't experienced a headline-grabbing personal and professional meltdown last year.
That fact that it's on TV at all must rank as some kind of victory for Sheen, but it'd be a stretch to call his sitcom return a winner.
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