Charlie Sheen Charlie Sheen

It's something of a crying shame that the new comedy getting the most attention tonight (buzz-wise, though certainly not critically), and which almost certainly will attract the widest audience (of morbidly curious rubber-neckers, but who's counting) is by far the least worthy of attention or respect.

We're talking, of course, about Anger Management, bowing on FX with back-to-back episodes (9/8c) following a 12-hour marathon of Two and a Half Men repeats (starting at 9 am/8c) selected — so we're told — by Charlie Sheen himself. He's now trying to make nice with the legacy of the hit show he left in tatters and relentlessly trashed as he embarked on an exhibitionistic meltdown that has led to this thing, this would-be cash cow in sitcom clothing, which isn't so much a show as it is a deal.

A raw deal for those who tune in, I might add. This too-soon comeback vehicle is one of the most cynical projects ever calculated to cash in on a fallen star's notoriety. It may be good business — for FX and for the production company that plans to muscle the show into instant syndication, cranking out 90 more episodes if the first 10 are successful enough (which seems depressingly likely) — but that doesn't make it good TV. With its deafening laugh track and its banal barrage of gamy insult humor, it intrudes on FX's otherwise distinctive comedy lineup like an obnoxious drunk uncle who's not as funny as he thinks he is.

Self-consciously smarmy as it winks and leers at Sheen's bad-boy reputation — the opening gag is a self-reflective groaner that stops just before its "winning" punchline — Anger (related to the Adam Sandler movie in name only) finds Sheen once again playing a not-very-sorry Charlie, a former athlete and divorced dad with anger issues who's trying to redeem himself as an anger therapist counseling wacky groups at home and in prison. (Cue those gay inmate jokes!) As usual, Sheen's comic timing is sharp, even with this calcified material, but the chemistry is flaccid and icky with his leading ladies: Shawnee Smith as his smug ex and Selma Blair sleepwalking through the tasteless role of a therapist he's bedding in between sessions.

Somewhat more intriguing, for sitcom historians anyway, are the scenes featuring Brett Butler (another ravaged sitcom veteran who hit bottom in a Chuck Lorre show) as a jaded bartender who needles Charlie. Her show I might watch. The fact that hype alone could make Anger Management a hit is enough to make the blood boil.

Want more TV news and reviews? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!