''The Osbournes''' metal-head guide to parenting. Yes, the surprise hit series is good fun, says Ken Tucker, but it also shows us a real family dealing with real issues
Ozzy Osbourne, The Osbournes
Credit: The Osbournes: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

”The Osbournes”’ metal-head guide to parenting

Like ”The Simpsons” before them, ”The Osbournes” has proven to be a wacky-on-the-outside, wise-on-the-inside television guidebook to parenting. Just as the besotted, self-centered excesses of Homer and the wiseacre irreverence of Bart Simpson initially attracted a fair amount of media grousing about poor examples of family life, so did drug-veteran Ozzy and his pair of irreverent offspring, teenagers Kelly and Jack, seem to some viewers the nightmare result of permissiveness. And in both shows, it’s the woman of the house — Marge in Springfield, Sharon in Beverly Hills — who are the voices of sanity and discipline.

But since ”The Osbournes” are real people as opposed to cartoons, and since they’re the new TV phenomeon, their family dynamic bears close scrutiny just now. With each new installment we get a better, deeper understanding of Ozzy and Sharon’s parenting style, and as such, they offer everyone who tunes in (and suddenly, a lot of middle-agers I know are watching MTV on Tuesday nights) some valuable tips on dealing with parental/teen divisiveness. To put it in a frame of reference baby-boomers will follow, ”The Osbournes” is ”Dr. Spock” for metal-heads.

Like the famed baby-doc Benjamin Spock, Ozzy and Sharon believe in permissive parenting — up to a point. When Kelly recently disobeyed a family directive and got herself a tattoo, it was not merely the occasion for a priceless Ozzy ramble about how his own heavily, indelibly-inked arms ”f—ing swelled up” from infection. It was also a charged scene in which Jack spilled the beans about the tattoo to Ozzy, and then Kelly, exercising a daughter’s inalienable right to manipulate Daddy against mean old Mommy, begged Ozzy not to tell his wife.

Ozzy, to his addled credit, said blithely, ”No, GOT to!” and immediately picked up the phone and called Sharon, who was having her hair done. From the beauty parlor, Sharon conveyed her disappointment. ”She says you’re stupid,” relayed Ozzy. ”I didn’t need to get a tattoo to know THAT,” said Kelly. Ooof! There’s a moment that strikes pain and guilt in the heart of every parent.

Somehow, ”The Osbournes” denies the old chestnut that ”the rich are not like you and me.” These posh transplanted-Brit rock star progeny are SO much like you and me, it’s often frightening whenever it’s not thrilling (and I’m not leaving out hilarious). True, perhaps it wasn’t setting the best example last week, when Sharon started throwing leftover food onto the property of loud next-door neighbors. And many of us would not like to hear kids say the ”f”-word used as freely as Kelly and Jack do, but then, when your parents pepper every other noun with the same word, and this most vehement of all swear-words seems to result in no diminution of love among parent and child, what harm does profanity ultimately do?

When Jack and Ozzy sit on the sofa watching the History Channel and Ozzy absent-mindedly puts his arm around the boy to pull him close, my heart is warmed. When Ozzy pulls Kelly onto his lap backstage at MTV to assure the nervous girl that their cohosting of ”TRL” is going to be fine, kissing her cheek and being rewarded with a hug, I am confounded with the love that strong family bonds can summon up with such power and quickness.

Yes, we all tell each other the next morning that we watched ”The Osbournes” for its what’ll-they-do-next silliness, but in our souls, we know we also know we watched to see a real family grapple with age-old conflicts with a messy passion and commitment that can comfort and inspire us as well. Nobody ever felt that way while squinting at ”The Real World.”

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