Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder, as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t make it past their first season and saved us all a ton of grief.
If nothing else, Brilliantly Canceled provides us all with a space to congratulate the network executives that earn their bonuses by recognizing when they have something of a turd on their hands. It takes a lot to commit to a show nobody watches for a few seasons, but it takes even more to invest thousands in a show no one will watch ever, like, for instance, moving forward on a variety show featuring one of America’s favorite families, while ignoring the obvious fact that no one has enjoyed a variety show since Sonny & Cher. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the monster who green lit The Osbourne family variety show, The Osbournes: Reloaded, and the rocket scientist who quickly canceled it.
Fictionalized, serialized, or reality-televised families always seem to get the variety treatment when ratings plummet. The most famous example being the Brady Bunch, whose traveling good time family band magic and comedy hour, featuring a scab Jan covering for the conspicuously absent Eve Plumb, shocked fans with its damnation of good taste and overt grabs at cash. The variety revival didn’t get another chance until 2004, when Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey dove head first into public humiliation and did things like this sketch.
But the thrill of watching beautiful people wield an oversized lollipop and dress like 19th century German school children can only amuse for so long. No one wants to watch someone perform a sketch about the loan offices of Mr. Knickknack Patty-whack, unless there’s a tinge of self awareness, letting us, the confounded viewer, know that the performer recognizes their own stupidity — or the viewer needs interest rates on giving a dog a loan.
It was probably that tinge of self-awareness that kept people returning to la casa de Osbourne for three years on MTV’s The Osbournes. The family’s candid attitude and complete lack of understanding anything other than the words “shit” and “bollocks” clicked with an audience that understood “shit” but wanted to hear a definition of “bollocks.” Yup, for three years we, as a nation, spent time nurturing, engaging with, and accepting the Osbournes as they were, warts and all.
Following the show’s finale, every Osbourne tried to steal the spotlight, with the most upsetting example being Kelly’s attacking TRL viewers with her cover of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” and the most successful being Sharon’s frequent hosting stints on daytime gabfests and primetime talent shows. But, at some point, America would have to wake up and realize that a) the Osbournes haven’t been on TV together in almost half a decade and b) seeing foul-mouthed children play Ozzy and Sharon would be hilarious.
Fans of children swearing got their wish. On March 31, 2009, Fox aired The Osbournes: Reloaded, an hour-long variety show, which would be cut to 30 minutes before its premiere, and canceled shortly thereafter. It’s not hard to see why: This show is terrible. With skits ranging from a Flashdance parody starring Ozzy to Kelly coordinating the drive-thru line at a burger place, the Osbournes repeatedly mock and dismiss the life of common people to no end. While their reality show played with the idea that this was not your ordinary family, the show concedes to simply make fun of that which the Osbournes have no relation to.
Most of the trouble comes from show’s two most prominent elements: The crowd and the hosts. The overtly enthusiastic Osbournes scream and hoot at onlookers, asking a young man to blindly and unknowingly make out with an old woman for their own amusement, before spraying the crowd with a fire extinguisher. It’s as if the crowd are the court jesters at whom the royal Osbourne family can throw pies. Meanwhile, the seemingly drugged crowd can’t seem to vocalize anything other than grunts and hollers at things like Jack insinuating that he may have roofied an audience member. It’s all bit too much to handle, everyone’s apparent insanity, but the strangest thing that happens is no one laughs. Ever.
These TV families, particularly the Osbournes, are fun to watch in their own element. Left to their own devices and with no obligation to anyone, the Osbournes could concern themselves with the frivolous interests of the hyper-wealthy. These are things America loves hearing about. So when we see the Osbournes prancing about the stage, not only attempting to relate to the common man but also to entertain them, the results can be disastrous. Eventually, watching the Osbournes fail so miserably at convincing anyone that this garbage is any good will depress anyone bored enough to watch. And anyone still in for the long haul will wonder, where are the things about this family I supposedly liked?
Ultimately, any TV family, whether they are in animated, sitcom, or reality TV form, must appear as though they love each other to attract an audience. The Bradys, The Lachey-Simpsons, The Osbournes all succeeded at providing their relationships with a heart. No matter how many times Ozzy yells for Sharon, the audience understands that, at the relationship’s core, there exists something resembling love. It is this connection, this chemistry, that made the non-variety versions of these families a success. The Osbournes filled their reality show with this kind of chemistry, which The Osbournes: Reloaded lacks, leaving the family’s chamber loaded with blanks.
Matt Schimkowitz is freelance writer, critic, and Class-A dungeon master, despite having never picked up a 20-sided die. Like you, he enjoys the finer things in life: drinking from coconuts, the latest Italian vogue, and complaining about movies, music, and TV on the Internet. Find more writing about canceled TV shows on the Twittersphere @borntoslug.