When it comes to the Osbournes, my favorite member of that family is 19-year-old Aimee.
Aimee, of course, is the Osbourne who declined to be part of “The Osbournes.” She absented herself from the weekly spectacle that made instant stars of her siblings, Jack and Kelly, and her mum, Sharon, while giving Ozzy, her heavy-metal dad, a new jolt of celebrity.
I can’t help marveling that Aimee could resist the opportunity her kin embraced: to appear on MTV as real-life knockoffs of themselves.
She gave up exposure. She gave up money. What’s wrong with her? Or right? I confess, I have a grudging admiration for this person about whom I know nothing, precisely because she has stayed out of sight.
Even more, I really marvel at the phenomenon Aimee rejected. I remain astonished at how, nine months after its premiere, “The Osbournes” continues to command an audience and media attention this despite the feeblest premise and the dimmest execution since “My Mother the Car.” (Now in its second season, “The Osbournes” airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m.)
Sure, up to a point, its popularity makes sense. Billed as a “reality sitcom,” “The Osbournes” sticks to TV sitcoms’ time-honored formula. Ozzy is the addled dad. Sharon, who calls the shots in hubby’s life and career, reigns as the power behind the throne. And there are two precocious teens under foot.
Added to this in the second season is a very special, heart-tugging plot complication: Sharon discovers she has cancer, which pulls the family even closer together as they rediscover what’s important in life. It’s a sitcom hat trick: laughs, tears, hugs.
Plus autobiography. The Osbournes carry on in the tradition of TV stars from Lucy through Roseanne, Raymond and Bernie Mac, whose real lives inspired their comedy series.
There’s a difference, though. The Osbournes, spared a script, perform impromptu as some semblance of themselves while camera crews shoot them by the hour not that it’s enough to give them substance.
Look at Ozzy, a rock ‘n’ roll relic at 54 who since his Black Sabbath days has trashed himself from substance abuse. His real-life sitcom shtick, therefore, is limited to the shambling gait of a geriatric, tremors in his hands and difficulty performing the simplest task unassisted or voicing a fully formed thought.
One other thing about Ozzy: He swears. He swears with the witless frequency of someone blinking his eyes in a sandstorm. (The resulting bleeps serve “The Osbournes” as its comic trademark.)
In short, Ozzy is a constant reminder of that anti-drugs slogan, “Why do you think they call it ‘dope’?” Meanwhile, his son and daughter co-stars are poster kids for birth control.
Jack, 17, and Kelly, 18, are jaded, belligerent and desperately cool. Their badinage can’t be printed in a family newspaper, even with the bleeps.
Among the foul-mouthed foursome, only Sharon displays evidence of charm, brains or strength. Yet she is less than meets the eye: She is a party to raising Jack and Kelly, for which she must take her share of the blame. She also puts up with Ozzy, a weakling more helpless than ever when she takes ill. Sharon is the enabler in this pack of co-dependents.
Of course, she’s also a cutthroat businesswoman who sold her family to MTV for a reported $5 million-plus. (She kept merchandising and global rights.)
MTV was pleased to pony up. “The Osbournes” is the network’s biggest-ever hit though the audience for some airings has been dwarfed by lame fare such as UPN’s pro wrestling and ABC’s fantasy-adventure flop, “Dinotopia.”
A hit that relatively few people see, “The Osbournes” is a sideshow writ large by the spellbound media that hype it. Best defined by what isn’t there, it masquerades as a comedy whose biggest laughs come from bleeping what its characters say.
It’s a show whose crowning joke is that anything about it seems funny or real.
With “The Osbournes,” the joke is on you.
Frazier Moore writes about television for the Associated Press.