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FX’s New Thursday Night Comedy Lineup Debuts Tonight

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In the olden times, summertime was a fallow period for television, dominated by reruns and what new shows there were took the form of Battle of the Network Stars and things of that ilk.

Even relatively recently, while cable networks have offered more original programming in the summer than was available previously, a lot of it has been lightweight fare like Burn Notice and Royal Pains, while the networks have continued to offer the modern day equivalent of Network Stars, reality shows like Wipeout and Glass House.

Even more recently, a new trend has emerged where several of the most critically acclaimed, talked-about-on-the-internet TV shows are in effect summer shows. That trend continues this year, with Louie beginning its third season on FX tonight and Breaking Bad beginning the first half of its fifth (and final) season on July 15; meaning that two shows always in the running in any discussion of the best show on television will be airing new episodes throughout the dog days of summer.

Louie will be premiering tonight as part of a bizarre, loosely affiliated group of extremely disparate comedies that FX has been promoting as a unified block of programming to some extent. The other shows involved include Anger Management, the new Charlie Sheen sitcom, Wilfred, which premiered last week for some reason, and Brand X, a new talk show hosted by Russell Brand. FX has even made a few promos where all these guys stand around together awkwardly:

However, ultimately there isn’t a lot linking these shows, even a shared comic sensibility or anything like that. To begin with, Anger Management sounds terrible. As Alan Sepinwall says in his review, Anger Management doesn’t really fit in at all with FX’s original comedy “brand,” but instead fits in with the Two and a Half Men repeats that FX airs nearly constantly outside of prime time. Indeed, FX seems to be gearing up for the show’s premiere with its daytime programming today.

First it’s showing the movie Anger Management  (which supposedly has nothing to do with this TV show) and then nonstop Two and Half Men reruns (reruns supposedly selected by Sheen himself) all the way up to the Anger Management premiere.

Sheen’s new show seems to be conclusive proof that once you’ve seen one late period Charlie Sheen vehicle you’ve seen them all, right down to Anger Management‘s continuance of the convention of naming his character “Charlie,” presumably so he doesn’t get confused. Apparently, big surprise, the show is extremely self-referential about Sheen’s offscreen adventures, as is everything the guy does these days including Fiat commercials. There’s even a “winning” joke.

Sheen’s character here sounds like a remix of all of his previous characters. He’s a former minor league baseball player (reference to the Major League movies) who is now both a therapist and someone who needs therapy himself. There seems to be some half-hearted attempt to deal with Sheen’s long history of misogyny and domestic abuse in some way by making most of his character’s close relationships be with female characters. He has a good relationship with his ex-wife (wish fulfillment that the Denise Richards thing was working out better perhaps?)  and with his teenage daughter.

His best friends are a bartender played by Brett Butler (someone who went through her own drug-addled, Charlie Sheen-like meltdown that didn’t work out quite as lucratively for her as his did) and a character played by Selma Blair who, because she’s the only one played by an actress who is by TV standards “hot,” is also his “fuck buddy.”

By most accounts, Anger Management pretty much offers the same reliable multi-camera sitcom product that Sheen has been putting out for years on Two and a Half Men (and before that on Spin City) so if you enjoy that sort of thing by all means tune in. According to Alan Sepinwall’s review Anger Management isn’t an original FX production, as many of the network’s better shows are, but is being done with a syndication deal similar to the one that Tyler Perry has with TBS. Ten episodes have been ordered and if they hit a certain ratings threshold (which almost all observers think they will) then an additional 90 (that’s right 90!) episodes are automatically ordered.

In essence, FX is betting that going into business with this woman-abusing creep is the only way they can make money to finance more actually good shows like Louie, Justified, and Wilfred, and sadly they’re probably right.

After the first two episodes of Anger Management air tonight at 9 and 9:30 Eastern (second ep “Charlie and the Slumpbuster” sounds especially vile) Wilfred comes on at 10 and the already well-reviewed season three premiere of Louie at 10:30 followed by the premiere of Brand X at 11.

I’m having trouble finding much in the way of buzz, positive or negative, for Brand X. Confusingly, some critics seem to have seen the premiere episode while others claim that it wasn’t made available to screen. I imagine, much like Anger Management, one’s enjoyment of the show will hinge almost entirely on one’s opinion of its “bad boy” star.

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