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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Charlie Sheen’s wicked, wicked, winning ways

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Charlie Sheen's wicked, wicked, winning ways


EDITOR’S NOTE: Matt Zoller Seitz says Two and a Half Men replacement Ashton Kutcher can’t compete with pop culture’s smirking prince of darkness.

By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor

This article was supposed to compare last night’s Comedy Central roast of Charlie Sheen and the premiere of CBS’ Two and a Half Men, starring Ashton Kutcher in Sheen’s old role. That’s not going to happen because after watching the roast, I can barely remember a thing about Two and a Half Men. The Sheen roast — and Charlie Sheen himself — all but obliterated the CBS sitcom from my mind; any details contained herein are the result of consulting notes and a DVR recording.

Charlie Sheen tends to have that effect. The man is superficially charming but thoroughly loathsome, so bereft of anything resembling decency or common sense that the media and the public can enjoy his prolonged flameout without a twinge of guilt. And yet he’s mesmerizing for precisely that reason. Nobody in the history of American popular culture has built such a long career almost entirely upon being a decadent, sarcastic, horny, volatile party animal, minus any remarkable talent to counterbalance it. It’s unprecedented. But it’s not as if it all started last month.

Remember when Sheen replaced Michael J. Fox on Spin City a decade ago and played pretty much the same character he played for all those years on “Men”? Both characters were kin to Sheen’s first memorable screen role, the raggedy teenager with bloodshot eyes who charms the hero’s sister at the police station in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As Sheen himself recalled in his closing statement at the roast, his first line in that comedy was “Drugs?” Twenty-five years later, he’s still here — meaning in popular culture, and in our heads — for drugs. By which I mean Sheen is here because he needs the drugs — the actual narcotics and the drug of fame. And society is happy to supply plenty of both.

On some deep, horrible level that most people don’t want to admit, that’s what makes Charlie Sheen darkly attractive, and impossible to ignore, much less shun: his sheer, arrogant, delighted-with-himself I-don’t-give-a-damnness. We have to play by rules. He doesn’t. He’s the guy who gets away with it.

You can read the rest of Matt’s piece on Charlie Sheen here at Salon.

A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.

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