Cable overload: Sheen, Brand, Louie and a guy in a dog suit


Cable keeps finding new ways to dominate the summer. HBO is doing it with quality ("The Newsroom"), TNT and USA with sleek quantity. And now FX has anew approach.

In one overcrowded Thursday, it debuts shows by two eccentric sorts -- Charlie Sheen and Russell Brand -- sandwiching them around the returns of a good show ("Wilfred") and a sometimes-great one ("Louie"). Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

Imagine a rag-tag army, storming into
our TV sets.

At the front is a Malibu guy who lost
millions and declared himself a winner. At the back is a British
bloke; in between are a solemn New Yorker and an Australian who
dresses in a dog suit.

That's what FX now has on Thursdays –
two hours (two-and-a-half on June 28) of oddness. In some ways,
Charlie Sheen is the most normal guy in the bunch; he shares
Thursdays with:

– Russell Brand, whose verbiage can
be thick. “We have this toxic, sequined wave of vapid culture,
polluting our minds, denigrating our consciousness, distracting us
and removing us from our spirituality,” he told reporters. The
reporters merely nodded.

– Elijah Wood, who plays a guy who
thinks his neighbor's dog is talking to him. In the first season of
“Wilfred,” he got used to doing these scenes with Jason Gann, who
was encased in a scruffy dog suit. “That was my reality, … to the
point where I didn't think it was strange,” Wood said

– And Louis C.K., who stars in
“Louie,” playing a solemn version of himself. “I'm a single dad
and … I work very hard right now, so there's a lot to keep me
depressed,” he said.

Lump these into one sumer night and you
have a turning point for FX. After success with dramas (“The
Shield,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Justified”), the network
finally has a string of strong comedies.

“Louie” came first, a mid-life
boost for its star. “(For) 26, 27 years I've been doing stand-up,”
said C.K., now 44. “I've had two great years, probably, (and) five
good years. So I had 20 years of just kind of uncertainty and
suffering and ego-destruction and poverty.”

After previously stumbling with a movie
and an HBO series, he promised to make “Louie” cheaply, in
exchange for having total control. He was poised for comedy success,
he said: .“An army of failures that have wrecked my life made me
good at this.”

The result soared last summer, in its
second season. The American Film Institute called “Louie” one of
TV's 10 best shows; Time magazine called it the best.

That was the summer FX added “Wilfred,”
even keeping the same guy (Gann) who co-starred in the Australian
version. Wood says he finds the show's concept logical. “If you
have a dog, more often than not, it ceases to be a dog to you.”

The big FX change, however, came this
year, when Sheen and Bruce Helford (“The Drew Carey Show”)
pitched a series about an anger-management therapist with anger
issues. “I walked into the pitch as skeptical as you might
imagine,” said FX programming chief John Landgraf. He bought the
idea without a pilot film, strictly from what he calls “a really
good pitch for a comedy series (that's) funny, complicated and
(with), I think, the character that Charlie” should play.

He also gambled on “Brand X,” with
Brand working to a nightclub audience. Brand, who's British, calls it
“the perspective of an alien, trying to understand this peculiar
time, this peculiar county.”

Don't expect in-depth politics. As the
Republican primaries boiled, Brand said all he knew was that one name
“sounds like 'sanitarium,'” that ” 'Newt Gingrich' is a
ludicrously amphibious, bizarre name” and that Mitt Romney is “so
rich that other billionaires would seem like Dickensian street
urchins.”

His show will not be a font of
political satire. It may, however, be the logical conclusion to a
night that starts with Charlie Sheen.

– FX Thursdays: “Anger Management,”
9 and 9:30 p.m., “Wilfred,”10; “Louie,” 10:30; “Brand X,”
11.

– The first week (June 28) has two
new episodes of “Anger Management”; after that, it's a rerun at 9
p.m. and a new episode at 9:30.