No shine to Sheen's comedy
Anger Management (Comedy Central), Rachel Allen's Cake Diaries (RTE1) --- "Who didn't see THAT coming?" says a character in Charlie Sheen's new sitcom Anger Management.
That's a fate-tempting line for a writer to use in any comedy, but doubly so in one as predictable as this, where you can see everything coming.
If Anger Management and not Two and a Half Men had been Sheen's previous sitcom, we wouldn't be watching it now. It wouldn't be around to watch, because it wouldn't have lasted.
It would have gone the way of countless other mediocre, forgettable sitcoms starring actors who used to be in the movies by disappearing into television's equivalent of a black hole.
But Anger Management is not just any mediocre, forgettable sitcom: it's a mediocre, forgettable sitcom starring the former highest-paid star on US television, and it's the first thing he's done -- apart from some disastrous interviews -- since his very public meltdown last year, when he ranted about having "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA".
Lots of people are going to be watching, if only out of morbid curiosity.
Well, save your morbid curiosity for the nearest car crash, because there's nothing to see here, not a drop of tiger blood being spilled.
Two and a Half Men, which squeezed Sheen's bad boy persona -- drink, drugs, hooker parties -- for all it was worth (which in Sheen's case was €1.8m per episode), was one of the most reviled (by critics) and revered (by viewers) sitcoms in living memory.
But no matter where you stood on it -- and I was somewhere in the non-committal middle, watching it if there was nothing better on yet never actively seeking it out -- you couldn't deny that Sheen's comic timing was, as anyone who'd seen him in the post-Michael J Fox Spin City or even the Hot Shots! movies could tell you, flawless.
It still is, but Anger Management is all timing and no jokes, or at least none that stick in the memory for more than a few seconds.
Anyone expecting a blazing comic extrapolation of Sheen's past personal woes will have been disappointed.
Sheen stars as Charlie Goodson, a former baseball pro-turned-anger management counsellor who has anger issues of his own.
He has an ex-wife, a teenage daughter with OCD and a collection of patients straight from Chapter 1 of the Sitcom Cliches Guide: gay guy, a grizzled old guy who hates gay guys, a passive-aggressive guy, and a girl who hates all guys and once shot a boyfriend in the balls.
He's in a no-ties, sex-only relationship with another counsellor, Kate (a wasted Selma Blair), whose reluctant agreement to treat him for his own problems gave the first episode its best line: "Things are going so well for us -- we feel nothing for each other and it's working."
The odd mildly risque reference to sex aside, Anger Management is so bland, safe and mainstream, it could have been made any time in the last 30 years (there's even a laugh track, for God's sake) and safely screened by any of the major US networks.
The fact that it's showing in America on edgy cable channel FX is the funniest thing about it.
"I find I've always got a reason to get back into the kitchen and bake a cake," says the unfashionably posh Rachel Allen in Cake Diaries. Indeed, and the best reason of all, I imagine, is the chance to make another dull series like this.
Cookery shows, and indeed society, have moved on since the days of the Galloping Gourmet, but you'd never guess it from Cake Diaries, in which Rachel, while making muffins, suggested "strawberry and vanilla for a girl, and blueberry and vanilla for a boy".
As food porn goes, this is strictly knickers-on stuff and about as essential as an extra dollop of fresh cream on top of a towering black forest gateaux. Anyone for plum tart? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
ANGER MANAGEMENT 2/5
RACHEL ALLEN'S CAKE DIARIES 1/5