BY Ali Subotnick in Frieze | 06 JUN 02
Featured in
Issue 68

Masters of Reality

Settling in with the Osbournes

BY Ali Subotnick in Frieze | 06 JUN 02

Until recently Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson's love cruise video prevailed as the number one celebrity home movie available to the public. Now meet the Osbournes. MTV's latest 'reality-based comedy' features 53-year-old Heavy Metal rocker Ozzy Osbourne, ex-frontman of Black Sabbath, his wife/manager Sharon, their angst-ridden daughter Kelly (elder sister Aimee opted not to participate in the show), smartass son Jack, nanny Melinda, five dogs and a few cats in their Beverly Hills Neo-Classical villa. The Osbournes captures the down time of a superstar and his family, demonstrating that the monotony of domestic life doesn't discriminate against the famous.

In the series Ozzy's 'Prince of Darkness' image falls apart: we see him and Sharon backstage picking out bat costumes and fighting over whether there should be a bubble machine on stage or not (Sharon usually wins). He shuffles about the house in a zombie-like state, failing miserably at the simple task of re-lining the rubbish bin. He lamely chases after a lost cat in the sprawling backyard and snores ferociously on the couch while his wife and kids tear through the mansion swearing at each other (practically every other word is bleeped out). In one episode Sharon (encouraged by Jack and Ozzy) throws a ham at the yuppie neighbours next door, who have the audacity to sing 'My Girl' on their front porch. Kelly throws a tantrum when her sister Aimee books her an appointment with a gynaecologist, which triggers Ozzy's fatherly instinct. He asks if she's been having sex, which only exacerbates her 'wobbler'. Jack and Kelly quarrel over who gets credit for finding the 'next great band' - 16-year-old Jack is already working for Epic as a scout.

Littered with vulgar yet totally normal household scenes like these, the series provides the most authentic family entertainment since the American Family, the Louds (An American Family, 1973). And like the Louds, the Osbournes are a family: the sibling rivalry, the openness and intimacy, the marital bond between Ozzy and Sharon (a couple known for their vicious wrangling) - it's all pre-established, and they embellish these dynamics for our benefit. Sharon, the mastermind behind the programme - and Ozzy's career - is no dummy: this show can only increase Ozzy's fan base and product sales. Aside from the cut the family gets from the show (a reported $20,000 per episode), the programme also provides Kelly and Jack with the exposure to attract their own followings.

Unlike most reality shows, the Osbournes are at ease in front of the cameras. When Ozzy and Sharon call a family meeting to establish a curfew, Kelly explains rationally, 'We're not like other kids. We've been brought up differently.' The media-savvy teens have grown up fast and are accustomed to being in the spotlight. The Osbournes are fully aware of what this show is, and of what is expected of them, and they give us a rather slow-paced still life laced with humour, disgust and delight. And it's what people want: over six million viewers tune in each week, making it MTV's biggest hit ever. In the end we're all peeping Toms, and it's more fun to watch our heroes shit, shave and shower than a complete stranger.