Imagine you’re an actor offered a recurring role in a new sitcom. But there’s a catch: The star is Charlie Sheen.
Yes, Charlie Sheen, who seemingly blew up his career with personal excess, an ugly public departure from the hit “Two and a Half Men,” a bizarre stage tour and frequent employment of catch-phrases that soon enough became reason for mockery.
Well, Sheen is back, on FX, with the new series “Anger Management” premiering at 9 o’clock tonight. Inspired by the movie of the same name, the series will have an initial run of 10 episodes; if enough viewers show up for those, FX will order 90 more. The first two episodes find Sheen in relatively good form playing a good-hearted therapist with an array of (relatively mild) problems. Still, I can’t help but think, this is Charlie Sheen.
But James Black is enthusiastic about working with the actor.
He has a recurring role on “Anger Management” as a prison inmate getting group therapy from Sheen’s character, Charlie Goodson. When asked his first thought upon hearing he was working with Sheen, Black said, “Oh, my God, this is fantastic.”
“He is, to me, a comedy genius,” Black said during a recent telephone interview.
A frequent TV guest star, Black compared working with Sheen to working with Kyra Sedgwick on “The Closer.” “They would change her lines page by page and page and she would read it, go through it one time, and the next time it was perfect. I was like, ‘How do you do that?’ And Charlie Sheen’s like that. He knows his punch lines, and when something’s not working, he’ll work on it and say to the writers, ‘How about if I say it like this?’ ”
Black is in three of the first 10 episodes of “Anger Management.” When Black auditioned to play Cleo, the flamboyant inmate and romantic partner of another prisoner. “I went in and laid it out,” Black said. “I was Cleo the moment I ran into the room. Not walked. Ran, and said my hellos in ‘Cleo,’ and I had them in the palm of my hand.”
The presence of Sheen, executive producer Bruce Helford (veteran of “The Drew Carey Show” and “George Lopez”), and a supporting cast that includes Brett Butler, Shawnee Smith, Michael Boatman and Barry Corbin may indicate that “Anger Management” is closer to a traditional sitcom than other FX laughers like “Louie” and “Wilfred.”
And the early episodes confirm that impression. This is a show that will feel very comfortable to fans of Sheen’s work on “Men” and “Spin City.” But how will that sit with the devotees of “Louie” and “Wilfred,” which returns Thursday night, or of Russell Brand, who will debut a live show, “Brand X,” on FX that evening?
“Just like when you eat a meal, you don’t eat just pizza,” Black said. “You throw some salad in there. You get some carrots. (“Anger Management”) is part of a meal that you’re going to have that night, with comedy on FX. You can’t watch the same thing over and over again. In a given night, you have a variety of stuff, and one will lead into the other. If you like funny, you’re going to like ‘Louie’ (and) you’re going to like ‘Anger Management.’ ”