Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.
On Sunday night at the Fox party, another Canadian critic and I were cruising the room looking for Hannah Simone, the former MuchMusic presenter who now stars as Cece, the model who is BFF to Jess on New Girl.
We were spotted by a man from FX, Fox's cable channel. He stopped us, whispered, "He's here, I can take you out back to him. Only a few people are allowed."
The "he" was Charlie Sheen, who returns to TV this year in Anger Management, a comedy for FX.
We were led down corridors, past the kitchen and out into a dark back garden. There, at a corner picnic table, in almost total darkness under an umbrella, were Sheen and Bruce Helford, the Anger Management producer.
But someone had got there before us: Kiefer Sutherland. We arrived to watch Sheen leap up and embrace him. "How are ya man?" Sutherland asked as he and Sheen huddled and whispered for a minute.
The scene was beyond surreal: the darkness, the small huddle of reporters and the two bodyguards by Sheen's side. One stood directly behind him, stern, always on the alert for trouble. The other, beside him, smiled and watched intensely. Sheen couldn't enter the main party, certainly couldn't do the red-carpet thing like the Glee actors or New Girl people. There would be too much fuss.
Sheen smoked incessantly, fidgeted and welcomed us. In the light from an occasional passing car, he looked his age (46), a frail male, a bit dilapidated, with bags under his eyes. But he was aware, self-deprecating. "I'm not crazy any more," he said ruefully. Asked gently why the events of last year unfolded – the battle with the Two and a Half Men producers, the insults thrown at everyone, the online rants and strange behaviour, the comedy tour, he didn't hesitate with an answer.
"It was a lot about what had been going on for all the years on the job. It was also 30 years in the business, pressure cooking up, and finally saying all the things I wanted to say. And I said them all at once. And it created a tsunami of bizarre proportions."
Asked why he pushed his venom and behaviour to the limit, he said: "The reason I pushed it was because I knew I was right. I knew I was absolutely right in my stand. Right about what they [the producers]had done, which was completely wrong, versus what I had done, which wasn't. That's why I pushed it so hard."
The Canadians wanted to know about his connection with Sutherland – that hug, the huddled conversation. "We did Young Guns together back in '88. We've stayed in touch. We threaten to get together, but never do. ... I'd love to have him on the show."
Sheen's new series is on cable, but will be produced more like a network show, we were told. There is already an agreement to do 100 episodes in total, if interest in the first 10 is sufficient. Sheen will play a former baseball player with anger issues who works as "an unconventional anger-management therapist." His character – to be called "Charlie" – spends half his time at work and the other half on his personal life, dealing with an ex-wife, a 13-year-old daughter and his own therapist.
Bruce Helford, who ran Roseanne and The Drew Carey Show, says he wants a "mature tone" for it. The show is now being cast, writers have been hired and the first episodes may appear this year.
Of Anger Management, Sheen said: "There'll be no fart jokes. ... We're not going to do the obvious. We're going to stay away from it." That was interpreted by all of us as a sharp dig at Two and a Half Men.
But nobody asked him outright. The encounter had a strange vibe. Some of us called him Charlie and others Mr. Sheen. He seemed nervous, even with two bodyguards and Helford beside him.
The slow public rehabilitation of Charlie Sheen is under way. But strangely so. The party location was a historical Pasadena building with condos on the upper floors. During the roundtable with us, a resident returned from walking the dog, coming through the back garden. She glanced at the table, caught a glimpse of Sheen, scooped up her dog and raced inside. She felt the vibe. We all did.