When a series’ premiere and its first season finale could be swapped without much confusion, there just might be a problem.
As Erik and Todd previously pointed out, Anger Management’s series premiere buried glimmers of promise under an avalanche of supporting characters and premises, not to mention Charlie Sheen’s overwhelming public persona that pushed in on every scene. Nine episodes later, nothing’s really changed. Anger Management is simultaneously too ambitious for its own good and too complacent. It isn’t sure how to balance out its 1,001 elements, which often means addressing the secondary characters as if it’s crossing their names off of a checklist. Meanwhile, it leans on Charlie Sheen’s public persona so much that even in this tenth episode, it’s still unclear whether we’re watching a character or Sheen’s sizzle reel to prove his sanity is intact enough that he might keep working.
Plotwise, the finale is thin. Charlie and his friend/therapist with benefits Kate (Selma Blair) are enjoying their arrangement just fine, until they realize every friends with benefits plotline has to have a commitmentphobe freakout, or else it won’t be believable. So Charlie asks Kate out to a movie. As if on cue, she freaks out and mandates that their relationship stay strictly emotionless. Predictably, this resolves itself quickly, so the near-guaranteed second season can move the characters to the next inevitable stage: Oops, We’re in Love!
At the end of the day, though, the predictability of the Charlie and Kate relationship isn’t a huge crime, even if “predictable” does describe this show on almost every level. This plotline could—and should—have stopped at predictable. But of course, Anger Management also helps it along by having Kate send Charlie to the movies with a “psycho” woman, i.e. just about every other woman that appears on Anger Management. Never has the canned laughter been more confusing and infuriating than when it started up as Charlie merely walked to this poor, sadsack woman. But hey, she’s old and frumpy versus Selma Blair’s sexy, take no prisoners Kate, so the mere comparison is hilarious, right? Right?
Meanwhile, Charlie’s tween daughter tries to get a boy to notice her by kissing a girl but it a.) didn’t work and b.) got on Facebook, much to her parents’ chagrin. There is nothing wrong with this plotline, necessarily; handled with some care, it could have brought some insight into the relationship between Charlie and his ex-wife Jennifer, or their daughter crashing and burning in the face of social pressure. Also, it could have set up some actual jokes.
Instead, we get Jennifer asking Charlie if she’s responsible for her daughter’s Katy Perry phase because she herself had a one-night stand with a woman. Charlie reassures Jennifer she’s not gay with words I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Sheen has tattooed somewhere: “It just means you’ve figured out what men have known for thousands of years: Booze makes chicks horny.” A couple of hooker jokes later, Jennifer admits she was acting crazy (surprise!), and we’re onto the next thing, never to hear from this storyline again.
Even though the rest of the finale was teeming with casual misogyny and stereotypes (The Gay Character: “Kim Kar-crashian kept her Beamer on the road! Call Anderson Cooper!”), this storyline is where something clicked. Anger Management has stuck out like a sore thumb on FX’s Thursday night comedy lineup since it premiered alongside the twisted Wilfred and the melancholy Louie. In fact, Anger Management and its canned laughter stick out among all of FX’s programming so much, it seems strange that the outraged masses who tore Whitney apart for infringing on their beloved NBC Thursday nights didn’t go after Anger Management with the same venom for crashing FX’s critically beloved Thursdays. Yes, the premiere elicited some vitriol, but more than anything, Anger Management has mostly inspired shrugs. At a certain point, Sheen’s Manic Crazy Nightmare Guy routine has gotten so routine that working up the energy to hold him accountable doesn’t seem worth it. What difference could it possibly make to the inexplicably persistent juggernaut that is Charlie Sheen?
In the scene between Charlie and Jennifer, though, we have a prime example of an entitled, smug male character talking a supposedly psychotic woman off a ledge. It’s the very thing that’s brought HBO’s Newsroom under fire, yet Anger Management has escaped relatively unscathed. Maybe it’s because our expectations for a Charlie Sheen project were lower. Maybe it’s because we’re resigned to having a certain quota of casually sexist, racist, homophobic content on our televisions, as if that’s the tradeoff for the good stuff. Either way, though, it doesn’t mean we should indulge it.
- FX has yet to formally announce a pickup for Anger Management, but it’s expected any day now. Thanks to a substantial deal, this pickup would not only guarantee a second season, but 90 episodes. Let’s hope FX runs an audience promotion around season three for some actual anger management.