This publicity image released by FX shows Charlie Sheen, left, with James Black and Darius McCrary, right, in a scene from the new comedy "Anger Management." The series, Sheen's latest since leaving "Two and a Half Men," premieres Thursday June 28, 2012 with a pair of back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. on FX. (AP Photo/FX, Greg Gayne)
NEW YORK (AP) — Nik Wallenda has nothing on Charlie Sheen.
Sure, the famed high-wire artist thrilled millions as the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.
But that amazing feat lasted a mere half-hour, and Wallenda, had he lost his footing, would have been saved by a protective tether. Besides, the prayer-reciting daredevil called for holy reinforcement as he took his lofty stroll.
By contrast, hell-raising Sheen has tempted fate for decades without a net. There's been nothing to defend him from his death-defying appetites but tiger blood, Adonis DNA and endless bluster.
That is the tightrope Charlie Sheen cavorts on, 24/7, where at any moment he is poised to upstage everything else (as he did a year ago with his stormy exit from "Two and a Half Men," complete with his public rantings and his chaotic "Torpedo of Truth" concert tour).
Now, never really gone, Sheen is back. He has a new comedy series, "Anger Management," which premieres Thursday on FX with a pair of back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. EDT.
Nominally based on the 2003 Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson movie, the series has been tailored to fit Sheen's image and comfort zone. Once applauded as a talented actor, here he presents yet another version of the self-styled Charlie Sheen-esque character he played as Charlie Crawford on "Spin City" and Charlie Harper on "Men."
On "Anger Management," he plays a psychologist named — wait for it — Charlie Goodson.
Charlie Goodson is a former up-and-coming baseball player who, in a fit of rage during a game, tried to break a bat across his leg and messed up his knee.
What else could he do for a post-athletic career but become an anger management therapist?
With that, the series takes a step beyond the nonstop hedonism Charlie Harper championed on "Men." Along with enjoying good times, Charlie Goodson is trying to transform his motley clients, and himself, into less angry people.
In short, "Anger Management" displays a bit of heart, and surprisingly (since it's on the edgy FX cable channel, not CBS), turns out to be tamer than "Men."
Charlie has a 15-year-old daughter he adores, a sassy ex-wife he lets push his buttons, and, in addition to the paying members of his therapy group (shades of "The Bob Newhart Show"), he also volunteers at a penitentiary to work with cartoonish hardened inmates.
Meanwhile, he realizes that he still has anger issues and decides to seek counseling for himself.
"Why do you need a therapist? You ARE a therapist," his neighbor asks.
Charlie responds this way: "Did you ever see a tow truck hauling a tow truck?"
Of course, Charlie being Charlie, there's a problem.
"There's only one tow truck I trust," he sighs, "and unfortunately, I'm having sex with it."
He's talking about Kate, a fellow therapist and his no-obligations bedmate, to whom he pledges in the sack, "I promise I will never love you."
"Keep talking," she coos, turned on by his sweet nothings.
But can Kate be his friend-with-benefits and his therapist, too?
The writing has its bright moments, and the supporting cast proves serviceable. (Sheen's former "Spin City" sidekick, Michael Boatman, is welcome as Charlie's neighbor.)
But "Anger Management" exists solely to showcase Sheen, as it trades on the underlying joke that has fueled him since he joined "Spin City" a dozen years ago: his own reputation as a richly paid, scandal-beset rake.
The new show is just the latest act for the attention-gorging Sheen as he operates in league with his faithful codependents: a vigilant public and the media that guarantees his prominence.
So "Anger Management" is an OK, if slight, sitcom with a big star at its center. But since that big star is Sheen, his show is impossible to judge out of the context of whatever off-script spectacle Sheen next makes of himself. Granted, after all this time he hasn't crashed to earth yet. But he is never quite balanced on his real-life tightrope, where, without warning, he's always liable to steal the show — even from the TV series he stars in.
FX is owned by News Corp.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier