Charlie Sheen, James Black and Darius McCrary in the series...

Charlie Sheen, James Black and Darius McCrary in the series premiere of "Anger Management." Credit: FX

THE SHOW "Anger Management"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on FX.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Just to clear up something right at the outset, "Anger Management" is nothing -- even remotely -- like the 2003 movie of the same name, starring Jack Nicholson as an unconventional anger management therapist and Adam Sandler as the patient who is actually an easygoing guy placed under his care after a series of misunderstandings.

In this show, Charlie Goodson (Charlie Sheen) is an ex-ballplayer who broke his knee with a baseball bat; he needs to find a new career, and -- because he does have a degree in psychology and does have anger management issues -- he decides that anger-management counseling is his future. Charlie is a divorced dad, and father to Sam (Daniela Bobadilla), who has to navigate counseling sessions in their living room when she returns home from school.

And yes, Charlie's patients have issues: Ed (Barry Corbin) is a Vietnam vet, and a homophobe; Patrick (Michael Arden) is gay and has trouble with his family; Lacey (Noureen DeWulf) hates men; Nolan (Derek Richardson) loves women who hate men. Charlie patiently guides the group, while in his off time finds solace with his ex, Jennifer (Shawnee Smith), and girlfriend, Kate (Selma Blair), who is also his shrink.

MY SAY As TV comedy, "Anger Management" is mostly a disappointment, but as therapy for an actor who (by his own admission) had a psychotic break last year, this could pretty much be what the doctor ordered. Many Sheen fans have long viewed him as pure squandered promise -- a victim of booze, drugs, Hollywood and his own well-exercised demons.

His fans loved him in "Platoon" and even in that brief standout moment in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and, of course, in "Wall Street." Then they blamed "Two and a Half Men" as a take-the-money-and-run gambit that corroded his soul and fattened his bank account. Even when it was funny, and "Men" often was, Sheen seemed to turn into his character -- lazy, cynical and debauched: Charlie Sheen channeling Charlie Harper, and after a while they became as one.

Could "Anger Management" help in Sheen's 12-step recovery process? There's a slick, oleaginous professionalism to the show -- every joke, every prop, is familiar, right down to the couch, and after diving in, you feel yourself floating, or sinking, in a vat of sitcom goo. There are the usual jokes about various male and female sexual functions and body parts -- and what you can do with those body parts if you are sufficiently limber. (This isn't meant to be great TV, by the way, just an FX comedy.) But there's also a comfortable vibe to the whole affair -- a funny line here or there, while the supporting players, like Corbin, Blair and Smith, are all solid pros. (Brett Butler has a small role here, too, as a bartender.)

Meanwhile, Sheen's character is the nice guy this time -- much nicer than Nicholson's loony shrink, a world nicer than Charlie Harper. Even Sheen seems to recognize the therapeutic value of nice. "I'm done playing a drunken, womanizing, immature character," he told Playboy recently. "This time I'm playing an adult."

Charlie Goodson is solicitous, patient, gentle. His eyebrows arch quizzically when some other character speaks; Charlie Harper's used to scrunch, just as he was about to lob an acid barb. Charlie Goodson is touchy-feely. Lecherous Charlie Harper used to just touch and feel.

Whether they like the show or not, Sheen fans, and even Charlie Harper fans, will probably just be happy to see him back on the screen, and especially happy to see those demons checked at the door.

BOTTOM LINE Not great comedy, but hopefully the beginning of long overdue recovery process for a talented, troubled actor.


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