There comes a time in the life of every TV junkie who makes a living writing about it when suddenly it all becomes about Charlie Sheen. This is an inevitable fact. To me it should have already happened a few weeks ago, when the Hollywood badass’s new show Anger Management aired on FX, but thanks to a stroke of fate another famous comedian made his reappearance on TV the same day – and the same network for that matter. It’s what I call a bi-winning situation. Louis C.K. returns with the first episode of his fabulous 3rd season of Louie , and I didn’t have to deal with what I expected to be a spectacular fail. Then yesterday I watched Apocalyse Now and was stunned by the amount of Post-Empireness young Charlie Sheen was probably getting right from the cradle.
It was Bret Easton Ellis who came up with the distinction between Empire and Post-Empire in an article for Newsweek and The Daily Beast on March 15th of last year. Two weeks prior, Sheen had given an exclusive interview to ABC News’ Andrea Canning which immediately went viral. The performance he had given was mind-blowing, over the top. People got a taste of the drug Charlie Sheen and – as he predicted – they couldn’t handle it, most likely due to a lack of Tiger blood. Shortly after Charlie Sheen got dismissed from Two and a Half Men, which was around the same time the author of Less Than Zero and American Psycho praised Sheen as the one who had understood the fundamental mechanisms of showbiz. As Ellis put it:
Post-Empire isn’t just about admitting doing “illicit” things publicly and coming clean—it’s a (for now) radical attitude that says the Empire lie doesn’t exist anymore, you friggin’ Empire trolls. To Empire gatekeepers, Charlie Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity.
I’m not sure if Ellis would agree with me, but that is what has been most exciting since the beginnings of Hollywood stardom. Think Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger’s encyclopedia of early Hollywood dark sides and scandals. Think the New Hollywood movement and its excesses that make Sodom and Gomorrah seem like a bible group. And, of course, think Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie with not only one actor on the brink of insanity – but all of them. And right in the middle of it: Martin Sheen, father of Charlie Sheen.
The only difference between now and then is celebrities now embrace their flaws and admit their misbehavior publicly. This what Bret Easton Ellis calls Post-Empire.
Charlie Sheen had that bad boy attitude for years, at least for as long as Two and a Half Men has been running, and you couldn’t say for sure what came first: the chicken or the egg. Though one thing is certain: after Sheen’s firing, the show lost its balance and turned into pure shit. Instead of a dumbass and a badass playing the same joke over and over again, there were suddenly two dumbasses (Ashton Kutcher as the admittedly lucky second dumbass, but still), without a single decent joke to be heard in the whole godforsaken mess of a sitcom.
Sheen on the other hand, moved on – at least if you consider attending of The Gathering of the Juggalos moving on. There also was The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen, which wasn’t terrible, and of course his new show, Anger Management. This one is based on the tepid Adam Sandler comedy of the same name. As you can imagine, a show spinning off a movie from Adam Sandler’s (ongoing) streak of lackluster films isn’t exactly an equation for comedy gold. It won’t come as a surprise that the unhinged main character as played by Charlie Sheen is named Charlie, but I suppose the only thing actually fitting for a larger-than-life celebrity like Sheen would be a biopic.
Published July 26, 2012.