Last night FX kicked off their summer programming with the third season premiere of Louie and the series premiere of Anger Management starring Charlie Sheen. Louie is absolutely goddamn brilliant, tapping into the comedy of real life in a way that no other television program has ever done before. Its counterpart, Anger Management, is a cookie-cutter, vapid sitcom which induces far more groans than laughs.
Louis C.K., the creator, writer, director, and title character of Louie is a national treasure. Blessed with a very rare talent for subtle humor, he could simply sit in a chair, looking around and occasionally clearing his throat, and it would be pretty funny. In fact, he often does just that in various scenes of Louie, and it is indeed hilarious. Although his deadpan, understated style is a hallmark of the show and a great achievement, what really makes Louie a fantastic series is the sheer realness of it. Based not all that loosely on his life as a 43-year-old divorced comedian, the show never breaks from its commitment to depicting the humor of the everyday absurdities in our lives. With the obvious exception of the occasional stand-up routine, there aren't any true blue jokes on Louie. Instead, the comedy comes from funny things that happen to a funny person. There's no need for sitcom staples like a wise-cracking neighbor or a sarcastic teenager when you have Louis C.K. trying desperately to enjoy some pie a la mode despite his girlfriend's one-sided declaration that he wants to break up with her.
Anger Management, on the other hand, is a cheesy, half-hearted attempt to cash in on America's fleeting obsession with the fall of Charlie Sheen. In case you hadn't heard, the dude is bat-shit insane. His drug-addled ramblings following his dismissal from Two-and-a-Half Men were a YouTube sensation last year, eventually culminating in a Comedy Central Roast. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes (or more accurately, from the crack cocaine residue), Sheen is back in the spotlight with a new show. Sadly, the manic arrogance that made his implosion so much fun to watch comes off as much more pitiful when paired with a laugh track and cornball sitcom premises. In Anger Management, Sheen plays a toned down version of the lunatic we loved on YouTube. He still thinks he's “winning,” but not by quite as much. He still carries himself with great ego, but not quite as unjustifiably. And, he's still irreverent, but not quite to the point of being “tired of pretending he's not a bitchin' rock star from Mars.”
The differences between Louie and Anger Management can perhaps best be summed up by the fact that Louie is rated for mature audiences, while Anger Management is TV14. Louie is just as unapologetic as the stand-up that made Louis C.K. famous, but Anger Management is a far cry from the insane ravings that launched Charlie Sheen into this latest phase of his career. The fingerprints of TV executives which are all too visible in the calculated effort to make Charlie Sheen more palatable to a wider audience are refreshingly absent from Louie. Its gritty, yet comedically refined style is wholly unadulterated, in stark contrast to the hackneyed shlock that you get from Anger Management.
In fairness, I did chuckle a few times at some of the better jokes from Charlie Sheen, who still manages to be funny once in a while. However, for every joke that lands there are three or four which completely whiff, and disagreeing so often with the laugh track can make the show a struggle to enjoy. Truly effortless (even its budget is incredibly low), Louie never even flirts with unfunniness. Not every scene is a laugh riot, and this trademark slowness could certainly be a turn-off for some viewers, but never having to deal with a lame joke is a groundbreaking accomplishment for a TV show.
I highly recommend giving Louie a shot, especially if you've ever enjoyed Louis C.K., but I must warn even the most die-hard Charlie Sheen fans to steer clear of Anger Management, as it is a colossal disappointment.