“The Osbournes” becomes a reality show in the bleakest sense this season, as Ozzy and the kids cope with matriarch Sharon Osbourne’s colon cancer.
Yet as the second batch of episodes begins Tuesday, MTV also is trying to maintain the wackiness that made the series the network’s biggest hit.
The heavy-metal rocker, his wife and two of their three children are very different people than they were when they opened their home to us a year ago – and opened the floodgates to a slew of copycats.
They still spew plenty of profanities for the censors to bleep out. And Ozzy still shuffles around the house rambling incoherently about that tricky remote control.
But the Osbournes are no longer just a cuddly dysfunctional family: They’re a multimedia empire, with everything from books to bobblehead dolls.
The change is obvious in the first episode, which airs at 10:30 p.m. EST.
Ozzy and Sharon fly to Washington for the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner, where they’re the guests of Fox News Channel’s Greta van Susteren. (Ozzy even gets a shout-out from President Bush.)
Back home, 17-year-old son Jack turns the hose on fans who lurk on the Osbournes’ front lawn, longing for a peek at the now-famous family and their ever-growing menagerie of dogs and cats.
And daughter Kelly, 18, rehearses for the MTV Movie Awards, where she’ll perform her cover of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” the first single off her new album, which also comes out Tuesday.
“Things are kind of like so good right now,” Sharon says as the episode ends, adding prophetically: “Everything is really great for us, that I think something’s going to come and like, you know, knock us on the chin.”
That something comes at the start of episode two: Sharon’s diagnosis of colon cancer.
The 50-year-old is characteristically practical in discussing the disease, and even invites MTV’s cameras along for her first chemotherapy treatment. But the show’s tone – and the rest of the family – change irrevocably.
Ozzy alternates between boozing heavily and practicing yoga backstage during the Ozzfest tour, which Sharon invented. After a series of phone calls, he eventually collapses emotionally.
“I’m worried about him,” Sharon says. “I don’t know how he’s going to last.”
Ozzy admits, “My heart was breaking every night on stage.”
But then the action goes back to Jack, surfing in Malibu with guys from the rock band Incubus and fracturing his elbow when he tries to show off by leaping from a pier.
The juxtaposition may seem awkward, but the show’s producers have little choice but to document everything that happens in these people’s lives if they’re going to create authentic reality television.
“The heart and soul will continue to be this extraordinary family set in ordinary situations,” said Lois Curren, MTV executive vice president of series and movie development, who helped plan “The Osbournes” from the beginning.
“It’s all about their incredible love and respect for each other and protection for each other, and also the fact that they deal with situations so bravely and yet so magnificently absurdly,” Curren said. “It’s still a comedy.”
Twenty episodes are planned for the second season, which is still being shot. Ten will air now, with the other 10 scheduled for 2003.
Despite the Osbournes’ ubiquity, the world won’t grow tired of them, says University of Florida professor James B. Twitchell, whose books on modern pop phenomena include “Carnival Culture.” He admits he’s as “addicted as anyone.”
“This is not normal shame TV,” he said. “Most of the modern reality TV is watching people do things that are shameful. This isn’t. This is not a dysfunctional family…. This is a family that has had to make its own way.”
Twitchell compared “The Osbournes” to “An American Family,” the 1973 PBS series that chronicled the daily activities of the Loud family.
“People kept saying, ‘Well, we’re going to get enough of this.’ Some people like myself never got enough.
“There’s a lot more to go because there’s a lot more in this family,” he said of the Osbournes. “We’re getting an incredible dose of them but they’re as interesting in the 15th episode as they are in the first.”