Reality TV has climbed the highest peaks and sunk to the lowest, most degrading, levels of humanity. Once just a fad, and now a television revolution, it seemed that there were no more uncharted territories in reality TV. I mean in how many outlandish situations can you make strangers turn against each other? But MTV (originator of the now great-grandfather of reality TV, The Real World) had one more stop to pull out. This, the Trump card of reality TV -- Reality Celebrities: The Osbournes.
The Osbournes are the 21st century Cleaver family: Mother, Sharon, a slightly eccentric dog nut who happens to hold some strong opinions about Billy Corgan and Courtney Love based on personal experience. (Daughter reports of the former Smashing Pumpkins leader's new band: "they sucked." Sharon, Corgan's former manager, replies: "You're biased.") Father, Ozzy, a good natured, doddering man, who is overwhelmed by everything from the TV remote, to his rambunctious family, to the menagerie of pets in his house. ("I'm not cleaning up another turd, I'm a rockstar.") Son, Jack, the 16 year old baby of the family, who enjoys hunting the family cats with a machete, and is, appropriately, home schooled. (Sharon: "Socially, Jack's a little awkward.") Daughter, Kelly, 17, high-strung and gleefully trendy. ("My g-string is so far up my crack right now...")
Here Reality TV finds willing and able subjects, who are already acclimated to the media scrutiny that goes along with a camera crew following their every move. Jack even uses the camera's constant gaze to his advantage. After Kelly hits him during a frequent spat, he shouts: "Look! That was on camera, I'm showing Mom!" Even more beneficial, the usual reality TV fame game has already been played, thusly viewers are spared petty power struggles and painful exhibitionism by amateurs. When Ozzy has an appearance on The Tonight Show, Sharon and Kelly are already well acquainted with their roles for the evening: Sharon will act as liaison between the Tonight Show staff and her husband, the talent. Kelly will help cut the big loops of thread on her dad's spidery costume so he won't keep getting tangled in them. Rounding out the flavor of family drama, Jack stays at home and sulkily throws away his Eagles CDs while he yells at the nanny. (Jack: "Get a real job." Nanny: "Fuck off.")
One would think that at the heart of The Osbournes would be Ozzy himself, but most of the spirit of the show is found in the relationship between Jack and Kelly. This is real life, no holds barred, teenage-brother-sister action. Screaming, swearing, stomping, biting, punching, throwing, all-out older-mall-rat-sister vs. geeky-younger-brother warfare. And though these shenanigans are far from absent in your average reality TV show (think David and Tammy in the famed "It wasn't not funny" incident of The Real World L.A.) the irrational violence and emotional outbursts are justified by adolescence, and mercifully refereed in some fashion by Mom and Dad. (Ozzy sighs: "You kids are fucking insane.")
The level of profanity is high at the Osbourne residence, as is the level of glowing devil skulls, crucifixes, and fuzzy little dogs. But despite these trappings of the rock and roll lifestyle, rules are enforced: a strict 2:30 curfew (Kelly: "Can't it be 5:30 tonight?"); no cigarettes (Ozzy: "Did you bring these things in here? Ehhhh they smell."); no sex (Ozzy warns a mortified Kelly: "if you have sex use a con-dom."); and no drugs (Ozzy circa '02: "I want no marijuana smoking." Ozzy circa '75: "You gave to me a new belief, and soon the world will love you, sweet leaf.")
Granted, The Osbournes is a well-produced and slick affair. It's cleverly edited, and each episode's theme is announced with a title derived from a well-known Ozzy quote. (The second episode, which dealt primarily with the family's dog problems, was aptly dubbed "Bark at the Moon.") The opening credits feature classic-sitcom-style graphics paired with a lounge-y version of "Crazy Train" as the theme song. But without the Osbournes themselves, the show would be nothing. Spats and disagreements and affection are all the more genuine, and watchable, with the knowledge that this is a real family, no matter if Mom has pink hair and Elijah Wood helps the kids clean up after their dogs. Through every action, it shines through that this is a loving and very functional family despite its idiosyncrasies. And though we might not have an all-access look at the lives of these reality TV subjects, being able to witness genuine interactions between clever people who have a vested interest -- and even a love -- for the people they share the screen with makes up for any lack of topless hot tubs, whiny 20-somethings, or a tribal council. And it's nice to know rock stars can be good dads, too.
Images are from the official MTV website.