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A rockin' new page in the 'Osbournes' family album

Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly and Jack return with the same sharp edge that made them the MTV phenom they are.

By ERIC DEGGANS, Times TV Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2002

Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly and Jack return with the same sharp edge that made them the MTV phenom they are.

First, the good news: success hasn't spoiled The Osbournes.

Sure, the family vaulted from pop music oddities to pop culture icons with the explosive success of their MTV reality show last spring.

And as MTV's cameras trailed the quirky quartet's tireless work cashing in on their newfound status -- dad Ozzy saluting George Bush at the White House correspondents' dinner, daughter Kelly singing a showcase tune at the MTV Movie Awards, brother Jack freeloading off everyone and carping ceaselessly -- one question loomed.

Would it still be funny the second time around?

Fortunately, after perusing the first two episodes of the show's new season, this critic can assure that the more things change, the more dysfunctional this clan gets -- with family members bouncing off each other like pingpong balls as they each pursue their separate agendas.

The first episode, which airs tonight, begins with a joking reference to the show's debut episode in March, where the former Black Sabbath frontman fumbled with a computerized universal remote control.

This time, he assures, the old-fashioned remote he has scored works perfectly. But, as satellite channels go whizzing by on the TV, it's not long before dad's screaming for son Jack again -- just like last time.

That, in a small way, embodies the feel of this new season's episodes.

The nation's infatuation with this oddball clan may have pushed their jet-setting life into hyperdrive, but they remain, at their core, the same old Osbournes.

Which produces hilarious scenes: bratty Jack turning the automatic sprinklers on the legions of fans who flock to the door of their California home (a note to Jack: after this show airs, expect those same knuckleheads to come back, hoping to get drenched); Kelly needling Jack over his enthusiasm for the McRib sandwich hours after performing at the MTV Movie Awards; Jack labeling Kelly "sexualist" for not considering a female drummer for her backing band.

In the deluge of bleeped insults this family trades with each other, things get serious only after Jack utters a unthinkable insult to Kelly: "I hope your album fails."

Because, in a family that has earned a fortune turning its own dysfunction into prime time entertainment, there's no greater pox than cursing one of the clan's ancillary products.

But why have viewers taken to The Osbournes so?

Is it because the show turns the traditional sitcom family on its head, with these cursing, barely intelligible English folks who amble through life like The Beverly Hillbillies-meets-Spinal Tap?

Is it because they treat themselves like most of TV's dysfunctional families, abusing each other tremendously before declaring that they really do care for one another? Or is it because they provide a secret sense of superiority for viewers: showing this longtime rock star and his incredibly wealthy family are, in reality, twice as dense as the rest of us?

In truth, the answer is probably all of the above, and more.

For me, the reason this show has proven irresistible is because it seems to counter the one thing I hate most about every other so-called reality TV show: the lying.

Housemates using the most twisted logic possible to avoid admitting they've screwed over so-called friends on CBS's Big Brother. Men pretending they're interested in women long after they've chosen a mate on ABC's The Bachelor. Barely listenable singers swearing that the tartly humiliating comments from judges are actually constructive criticism on American Idol.

Say what you will about this family, but at least they seem to say what they mean.

"I'm a slob," Ozzy says in one of his many barely coherent asides to the camera. "I scratch my a- when I want to scratch my a-."

Indeed. But I can't help thinking the Ozzy of the '70s would have laughed himself into a seizure at the thought of spending an evening with someone like Fox News' Greta Van Susteren -- the anchor who invited him to the correspondents' dinner and comes off as one of the most uptight personalities on TV news.

Like so many icons of the '70s, Osbourne has been rendered harmless by his own attempts to preserve himself and the ever-coarsening state of pop culture. In other words, when modern-day music stars are gunned down in the streets, the thought of a singer biting the head off a bat onstage seems almost quaint.

The Osbournes plays that curious twist with knowing irony, alternating between scenes that play up Ozzy's incoherence (the shot of him hurling knives at a log target, each one bouncing off with a loud "ping!" is priceless) and shots that place him in unlikely environments.

This time around, viewers are treated to the sight of Ozzy doing yoga (?!), listening to poetry (it's okay: the Ozz-man farted while the guy was reading to him) and performing opera-style vocal warmup exercises.

As the man himself might say, What the @#$*?

But just when you get comfortable with all the fun and games, producers introduce the dramatic turn many of us already knew was coming.

"Something's going to come along and knock us on the chin," says a superstitious Sharon Osbourne at the end of tonight's episode. "I can't believe that everything's so good. I've always been one of those people -- a typical Jewish mother -- (saying) 'It can't be this good.' "

As headlines revealed over the summer, what eventually knocks the Osbourne clan on the chin is the discovery that Sharon -- at times, seemingly the only lucid person in this dodgy household -- has colon cancer.

Outlined in the new season's second episode, the cancer predictably upsets everyone in the family, nearly driving Ozzy to drink while performing on the Ozzfest tour, driving Kelly into despair while recording her debut album and prompting Jack into antics such as breaking his arm by jumping off a pier.

Talk about your reality TV: This is just the dose of sober circumstance the show needs; forcing the family to unite just when fame, friction and their own quirky personalities threaten to explode it all.

And once again, Sharon handles it all better than anyone, leveraging an irreverent good humor to keep all morose thoughts at bay. "I'm not ready to croak yet," she cackles, after another in a series of phone calls from Ozzy pleading with her not to die before he does. "And definitely not with a wig on."

Grown-up daughter Aimee, who lives a reportedly normal life apart from Ozzy and the clan, continues her boycott of the show (though newly adopted teen Robert Marcato, the orphaned son of a friend who died from cancer, joins in later).

And despite a high profile interview where Sharon implied the family might quit the series after this season's batch of 10 episodes, the Osbournes will stick around for at least another 10 shows.

After all, the first rule of pop culture capitalism is simple: Never jump off a trend until you've ridden it deep into the ground. And, judging by the newest batch of Osbournes episodes, that day for this series is a long ways distant.

-- To reach Eric Deggans, call (727) 893-8521, e-mail or see the St. Petersburg Times Web site at .

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AT A GLANCE: The Osbournes second season debuts at 10:30 tonight on MTV. Grade: A.

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