Television: Ozzy Knows Best


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Take the kids. (Or take two of them; the eldest daughter Aimee moved out of the house for the four-months-plus taping.) In sitcomland, Kelly would be a boy-crazy princess; Jack, an Alex P. Keaton rebel-in-reverse. In reality, they're smart, self-deprecating teens living an abnormal childhood normally; they're rich, their dad is the Prince of Darkness, and they're fine with it, thanks. Kelly talks more frankly about matters gynecological than any other teen on TV, in a jocular, locker-room way, but hardly mentions boys. Jack is starting his own record label. How square can you get?

Take away the Gulfstream jets, and it's something you see in real life but rarely on TV: a baby boomer's family that is neither traditional nor Dharma & Greg wacky. The unspoken context of The Osbournes' humor is that Ozzy's problems were not always of the how-do-you-work-the-remote variety; he has talked voluminously about his substance-abusing past. Now he tells his kids to say no to drugs and use a condom if they have sex. Whether that is hypocrisy or wisdom, even boomers whose wild life was limited to coughing through half a doobie in a parking lot can relate to Ozzy's situation in a way that re-examines that most political phrase, "family values." "It's not about how stiff or strict you present yourself," says MTV Entertainment president Brian Graden. "It's about how honest and loving you are."

The Osbournes is also a symptom of the evolution of celebrity. Save for an Olympian few, the Julias and Denzels, stars need to allow ever greater access, to dance for us a little, to stay in our good graces. (Make no mistake, The Osbournes is expert p.r.: Sharon, who is Ozzy's manager, allowed MTV's cameras back after the family did the network's house-tour show Cribs.) From the surprise Fox hit Celebrity Boxing to the star editions of NBC's entrails buffet Fear Factor, reality TV has become a kind of on-air pension plan for slightly used celebrities. And if any network knows how simultaneously to debase and elevate celebs, it's MTV, the home of Celebrity Deathmatch. The Osbournes says Ozzy is just like you because he has to take out the garbage and deal with dog pee; it says he is not like you because when he does this, it's funny (and it's on TV).

Yet Ozzy, with his bangers-and-mash accent, is such a bloke that you even empathize when he gripes about riding in a stretch limo ("f___ing pimpmobile!"). Like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Osbournes is about working-class people who happen to be rich. During the row with the neighbors, the "rich boys" next door make fun of the family's Martha-meets-Marilyn Manson decor. "[Ozzy] worked for those f___ing doors with the crosses on them," Kelly fumes. "So f___ them!" Leave it to the English to remind America that class exists. The Osbournes also violates some taboos by laughing about things sitcoms aren't supposed to. On the show--taped last fall, at the height of America's post-9/11 anxiety--Ozzy yells at a rascally pet, "He's a terrorist! He's f___ing part of bin Laden's gang!" Earlier this year, Drew Carey complained that ABC forced him to tone down an episode that made fun of airport-security workers.

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