By the time Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne attended this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner as Greta Van Susteren’s publicity-stunt guests, I figured ol’ Ozz had jumped the shark, if not bitten its head off. The first season of The Osbournes was a delightful surprise: so less contrived than anything else on MTV, so funny and warmhearted. But, as with any pop-culture phenom, self-consciousness can set in, spontaneity can rot — and the opening moments of the premiere tempt just such a fate for our Brit brawlers. The episode’s ”plot” — two story lines, about Ozzy and Sharon at the D.C. dinner, and daughter Kelly and son Jack’s appearance at this year’s MTV Movie Awards — frames the clan in its nouveau-celebrity context, rather than showing them pottering about their L.A. mansion, which is where we really enjoy them. Damn that devilish MTV: With their clips of Kelly cavorting through her live performance of ”Papa Don’t Preach,” they figured out a way to metapromote their franchise-within-a-franchise.
But everything turns out all right — that is, the series revives itself. There’s a terrific moment, pre-Washington visit, when Sharon tells Ozzy she’s bringing President Bush a gift of cuff links, and Ozz says the Prez isn’t allowed to accept gifts. He may be brain-fuzzed from drugs and alcohol, but here is a man after John McCain’s campaign-reform heart: Get Ozzy on an anti-PAC committee! And if we did not suffer through Kelly and the Movie Awards, we wouldn’t get to see the priceless moment when Jack finally sees his crush, actress Natalie Portman — and, seconds later, witness him gushing to his pals, ”A-maaaazing ass!” Neither would we have the post-awards scene in which Jack and Kelly, exhausted, cuddle against Sharon in the back of a limo, until Jack is roused by a sign in a McDonald’s window and yells delightedly, ”McRib is back!” When Kelly chides him contemptuously for taking such pleasure in junk food, Jack says, with what for him passes as sincerity, ”It’s the little things that count.”
This sentiment will become the very core of the new season, I presume. As we know, Sharon was diagnosed with colon cancer, and the following week’s episode takes up this subject with winning candor. Ozzy’s personal yoga instructor (don’t ask) tells his worried employer, ”If it’s any consolation, you’ll probably die long before she will.” Jack breaks his elbow jumping off a Los Angeles pier, and whines about it even as his mother is making light of ”me with half a colon.” Sharon’s diagnosis turns Ozzy into even more of a quivering mess; he starts hitting the bottle again and moaning about how he doesn’t want to continue his concert dates. (”I don’t wanna be sober, Sharon,” he says from the tour-bus phone. ”I wanna come home.”) Clearly, Sharon — Ozzy’s business manager and the ruler of the household — keeps everything in Osbourne World running smoothly, so her illness is a profound catastrophe (the only thing profound about the ridiculously extravagant Osbourne lifestyle). By the end of the episode, MTV is trying to edit the half hour so that it’s as uplifting as an installment of ”Everwood”: ”I’m not ready to croak yet,” a twinkly-eyed Sharon says, ”and definitely not with a wig on.”
Uplift, however, takes you only so far; it’s this series’ unique take on realism that can be positively transporting. The McDonald’s moment, the insensitive yoga instructor, a snippet of Ozzy comparing his own aging face to that of Glenn Close — this is all the stuff of which TV marvelousness is made. Sharon told Barbara Walters on the Nov. 6 airing of ”20/20” that she regretted the loss of privacy that resulted from doing the MTV show; but you also know that, 50-year-old shrewdie that she is, Sharon understands that without ”The Osbournes,” there would be no invitations to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, no deal to host her own talk show — just a few more years of Ozzy on some Midwestern arena stage, sweaty and bare-chested, screeching the F-word to thousands of Ozzfest cultists. (The footage of this in episode 2 confirms that Ozzy is now a truly awful performer, entertaining only to those who are either sensory-altered or treating the spectacle as a joke.)
In other words, ”The Osbournes” is bigger than the Osbournes themselves; they have been transfigured by the god of television. But it is a higher power whom we beseech that Sharon may live to swear and smile sweetly, and to swindle concert promoters and MTV for all they’re worth for many another day.