Does it make sense that when Charlie Sheen gets out of rehab, he'll resume being the highest paid actor on TV, while Mel Gibson's career will continue to play out like an obituary?
Their second acts haven't been written, and there's good reason to bet on Mel coming back stronger. But for now, there are plenty of reasons why Sheen seems to be getting a pass while Gibson gets Hollywood's version of last rites.
- Folks have known all along that Sheen was a skirt-chasing substance abuser, while Gibson always appeared to be a solid family with a strong Catholic faith: Sheen has admitted in court to spending tens of thousands of dollars on hookers and he's been in rehab before. He's fought bitterly with exes, so being accused of domestic violence is hardly out of character. Gibson, on the other hand, was married to the same woman for nearly 30 years, fathering seven kids with her while espousing a brand of Catholicism that, while severe, was recognizable to people of faith. Sheen hasn't changed, but Gibson sure seems to have.
- The Tapes: Sheen's accused of holding a knife to his wife's throat on Christmas Day, but we weren't there and they were back together for awhile after it happened. There's just enough wiggle room for fans to figure there's more to the story. There's probably more to Gibson's story, too, but Mel's ex Oksana has a seemingly endless supply of recordings of Gibson coming completely unhinged. We heard them, and we felt like we were there. A celebrity can overcome an embarrassing audio tape (see: Baldwin, Alec), but quotes like the one about Oksana getting "raped by a pack of n*****s" are beyond beyond.
- Their Victims: Charlie Sheen's victims are himself and the women in his life. That shouldn't excuse them, but the world has shown a bizarre and disheartening indifference to men abusing women. Gibson's targets have included homosexuals, blacks, Jews and non-Catholics. The damage control apologies stopped working a while back.
- Money: Mel is a much bigger gamble. Sheen earns roughly $1.8 million per episode and an episode of "Two and a Half Men" costs well short of $10 million total. Gibson, on the other hand, once dwelled in the rarefied $25-million-per-picture world, and his movies typically cost more than $70 million to make. Bigger money means bigger stakes: If the ratings for "Two and a Half Men" start to slip, the network pulls the plug and loses what amounts to a rounding error. But if you're a producer contemplating Gibson as the star of your movie, even if you get him at a buyer's price, you still have to lay $50 million on the table. If the fickle public rejects him, you get stuck.
- TV vs Film: For a Mel Gibson movie to succeed, people have to say to themselves, "Hey, Mel Gibson's got a new movie out. I like Mel Gibson, you like Mel Gibson, Let's go see it!" Then there's the whole matter of a sitter, getting to the theater and handing over 20 bucks. For "Two and a Half Men" to succeed, someone in a TV-induced fugue state need only twitch a thumb until they come across Charlie's mug and think, "This show is funny." Shortly after Sheen's latest arrest, "Two and a Half Men" co-creator Chuck Lorre was asked what effect the troubles have had on the show. “None whatsoever,” he said. “We put on a show last night that went extremely well. The audience was wonderful last night. We’re just going about our business.”
And yet, despite all that, it is Gibson who has the brighter future.
During his seven years on "Two and a Half Men," Sheen's movie career has been negligible. He's appeared in two "Scary Movie" installments and two flops, "Deeper Than Deep" and "The Big Bounce," and "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." People may still laugh at him, but they don't take his talent seriously anymore.
Gibson has the advantage of being not just a talented actor, but a writer, director and producer, as well. He can spend the next 20 years making whatever movies he chooses more or less by himself. He bypassed the usual Hollywood channels to make "The Passion of Christ," and made a fortune for his efforts.
Moviegoers, not to mention the Motion Picture Academy, have already shown a willingness to celebrate films directed by Roman Polanski, a man who drugged and had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Is anything that Mel Gibson has done -- the drinking, the epithets, the threats, the racism, sexism and homophobia -- nearly as wretched as that?