It took less than a week for Charlie Sheen to cross over from out-of-control wild man to calculating performance artist – but unlike most people self-consciously playing themselves, Sheen’s act didn’t start out that way.
Look at those erratic “tiger’s blood” interviews that landed just a week ago; they were captivating because they so obviously came from a chaotic mind. No one bought Piers Morgan’s argument that this was Sheen’s crazy-like-a-fox move to pressure CBS to bring him back to Two and a Half Men; if you’re trying to get your job back, you don’t act like an irresponsible lunatic.
But by Wednesday morning, when his children were removed from his home, Sheen seemed more stable. We may never know whether that change was physical, mental or both. But even as the late-night punch lines and parodies snowballed, Sheen began to consciously play the character the culture had – you couldn’t say embraced, but latched onto.
First there was his Twitter account, which grew to a million followers faster than any in Twitter history. But those tweets, reportedly dictated by Sheen to an assistant (that’s what most celebrity Tweeters do; some do a lot less) played off his catchphrases instead of randomly spouting them. Tossing out the possibility of a book deal he tweeted:
The title of my book has finally been delivered thru vast and extensive Lunar channels. Apocalypse Me.
He followed up by explaining the title:
Warlock Latin for WINNING.
That may have been the precise jump the shark moment, when the loony warlock reference and the catchphrase Winning were loaded into one Tweet. No one could possibly believe this was uncalculated anymore, and the whole circus – not to mention its audience – seemed tired.
Last night we had the conclusive evidence: Sheen’s own webcast and a Saturday Night Live parody of a Sheen talk show, neither of them nearly as clever, funny or worth watching as Jimmy Fallon’s Sheen parody.
The Sheen webcast was called Sheen’s Korner. Jimmy Kimmel used the K with a lot more savvy in his hilarious “Kimmel Kartoon” parody, which put Sheen’s words in a Cat in the Hat cartoon. I can’t say I watched much of this rambling, deliberately low-tech show; a little goes a very long way. I did see enough to know that Sheen is now consciously playing the tiger-blood guy. He even unbandaged a new tattoo that said Winning. He may be the only one who doesn’t know that catchphrase is yesterday’s, and now he has it on his wrist. (Not his biggest problem.)
And here’s SNL’s fake Sheen talk show. You have to feel for Bill Hader, whose OK Sheen impersonation would seem much better if we hadn’t seen Fallon’s brilliant one. But when both fake Sheens are more interesting than the real one, you know his moment is over.