You don’t meet families like the Osbournes every day. If you did, they wouldn’t have a show on MTV. The very fact that Ozzy—along with his wife Sharon, daughter Kelly, and son Jack—agreed to be filmed all day, every day for several months, suggests that they are not a normal bunch. But then, The Osbournes is one big joke about normalcy, a parody of sitcoms and reality shows alike. By now, Ozzy Osbourne is, of course, something of a self-parody. This is amusing at times, but mostly pretty dull, only barely defying conventions in its form, and not at all in its content.
MTV is advertising The Osbournes as a “reality sitcom.” The sitcom seems to be the preferred gauge, as it’s been compared to Ozzy and Harriet and The Addams Family. While the Osbournes are more like the former, their show’s aesthetics and humor are far more like the latter. At the same time, it is also a bit like Big Brother, in that the household dynamics are boring and involve lots of bickering.
Despite its documentary claims, however, The Osbournes is obviously a construction. Like those other non-reality reality shows—for instance, Survivor and The Real World—it displays only what the producers want us to see. Thank heavens we don’t have to see everything this family did during the filming period. It’s not just the gross or unseemly things I don’t want to watch. I’m sure I would also die of boredom if subjected to the Osbourne family in real time.
In this sense, the Osbournes are a conventional family. They appear always to love each other, often to like each other, and usually to drive each other nuts. Sharon attributes the turmoil to their hectic lives: “You’re all so tired,” she says. Or, in the kitchen one morning, Ozzy puts it this way: “I love you all more than life itself, but you’re all fucking mad.” As far as I can tell, nobody is listening to either of them.
And so, the familial structure is basically a darker version of Father Knows Best. It’s just that the Osbournes don’t smile all the time. Dad is a friendly curmudgeon, spending most of his time sprawled on a sofa watching TV. Mom supports Dad’s career and looks after household issues. Kelly is into clothes and parties, and has had daily temper tantrums since birth, according to Ozzy (who calls them “wobblers”). Bud, I mean Jack, likes to tinker with things and spends time in his room, listening to music. The family has moved 20-some times since the kids were born, says Sharon. It might sound like a mess, but at least they’re consistent. And who among us can cast the first stone?
Obviously, the double standard that has plagued teenagers since the beginning of time—the one where parents criticize their offspring for activities they have undertaken themselves—is way over the top here. Everyone knows that Ozzy and Sharon have engaged in their share of exciting rock ‘n’ roll partying, but they still urge their children toward a somewhat safer lifestyle: no getting drunk, no drugs, and use a condom. As usual, the kids (at least the two who appear in the series; Aimee, the oldest, opted out) respond with the equivalent of “Yeah, whatever,” and then do what they’re going to do anyway. They seem creative and smart, and I have a special place in my heart for surly teenagers who wear lots of black. I hope they end up okay.
One source of my worry is that they are surrounded by so much stuff. This series is about the Osbournes’ possessions as much as it is about the family, offering all the excitement of MTV’s Cribs, which is to say, not much. The first episode of The Osbournes introduces us not only to the wacky family, but also to all their gothic stuff. They are moving into yet another new home, so we see lots of boxes and unpacking. Sharon shows off their collection of crosses and religious artwork. We see Kelly’s clothes while she decides what to wear for a special event (not a school assembly, but a visit to The Tonight Show). We see Ozzy’s superlative, giant-screen entertainment system, on which he prefers to watch shows about war. The girls like decorating and clothes, the boys, guns and big TVs. Hey, maybe they are normal.
One apparently stable element is Melinda the Nanny. You might think that 17-year-old Jack and 16-year-old Kelly are a bit old for a Nanny, but with Ozzfest and all their other responsibilities, Ozzy and Sharon (who manages the empire known as “Ozzy Osbourne”) can’t always be around. So, Melinda tells the children to do their homework, clean their rooms, or turn down the music. That seems normal enough, but you have to remember that their rooms are bigger than most houses, and they’re being asked to turn down their dad’s music (or music that sounds a lot like it). Still, Melinda is no Mary Poppins. When Jack and Melinda are discussing whether he should go with the family to appear on The Tonight Show, the conversation degenerates into Melinda telling Jack to “Fuck off,” and Jack responding, “Get a real job.”
When all is said and done, though, I don’t see this show surviving very long—in fact, it is intended to be a terminal series—but I imagine its publicity campaign will revitalize interest in Ozzy and keep sales up for both the new cd, Down to Earth, and Ozzfest tickets. Its appearance on MTV rather than HBO or even VH1 seems like a stab at reeling in some younger fans.
And that brings me to the show’s promos, featuring Jack Black. Though he doesn’t appear in the show (not yet anyway), Jack Black is all about the target demographic—the 13-year-old boy crowd. From the blowhard music snot he plays in High Fidelity, to his work in the band Tenacious D, Black is a quintessential air guitar-playing rock fan. Or rather, he’s the quintessential parody of the air guitar-playing rock fan, the perfect liaison for those who haven’t been around long enough to witness Ozzy’s whole career—and you know the teenaged Jack Black rocked out to Ozzy.
Black is also a useful mediator for those concerned that Ozzy might be “selling out.” It’s hard to define selling out when it’s done by a parody of the concept. At one point in the first episode, Sharon says that Ozzy is reluctant to appear on
The Tonight Show because it is “mainstream” (The Osbournes is, by the way, sponsored by Diet Coke, Burger King, Blockbuster, and various video game systems). Soon afterwards, we see Ozzy watching TV and laughing at Jay Leno’s jokes. He could be Homer Simpson. But his show isn’t nearly so incisive in its critiques of consumer culture and happy family myths as Homer’s series.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/osbournes/