Sharon Osbourne really does want to have it all. That’s not a comment on her ability to balance work and maintaining a family—two things she has done publicly for decades, often impressively—but an assessment of the way she presents herself in the limited documentary series Sharon Osbourne: To Hell and Back, which she executive produced, along with her son Jack Osbourne and Pete Glowski, the vice president of Osbourne Media. A family affair such as this is engineered to lack hard questions—it’s more hagiography than journalistic profile—but it seems so few questions were asked that it could not even establish a basic sense of narrative coherence.
The series, comprised of four roughly 30-minute episodes, positions Osbourne as both the victim of a terrible injustice and an unsinkable champion. In recounting her departure from The Talk, the series argues that she is a casualty of cancel culture but also uncancelable. “I say when it’s the end of my career, it’s something that’s within my control,” says Osbourne. If she is so titanic—and her partnership with Fox on this series as well as signing a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s Talk TV earlier this year suggest that she is to an extent—then what exactly are we doing here?
You know you’re in dire territory when nonsense delivered by Meghan McCain sums up the scope of the argument at hand. “Her career is not over, but it could have been if it wasn’t Sharon Osbourne,” says McCain, one of a handful of talking heads who appear to support Osbourne. Isn’t her continued onscreen presence proof of life after the pile-on, especially since she accepted a reported seven-figure payout to exit The Talk (which she alternately admits she did on her own accord but also refers to as a firing)? And, on the other side, isn’t her position of power the entire reason people came for her in the first place?
There is some kind of entitlement guiding Osbourne’s rationale here. For a good two hours, Osbourne effectively tells the world, “How dare you disagree with me?” Osbourne had no credentials to assume the role of public intellectual (which her position on The Talk effectively is, whether you like it or not), showing up at work to simply spout what was on her mind. Truly, no one is entitled to get paid from just showing up, though admittedly, it’s great work if you can get it.
But questioning Osbourne is exactly what her co-panelists did when they confronted her in March 2021 for publicly supporting Piers Morgan after he threw a temper tantrum and walked off live British television. Morgan had said he didn’t believe what Meghan Markle told Oprah Winfrey about her time spent with the royals, which included allegations of racism. Because the functioning of racism is predicated (in part) on the denial that any such thing is happening, people—including ones sitting alongside Morgan on television—questioned his questioning of Markle, and then Osbourne’s fellow Talk panelists questioned her agreement. Osbourne has long carried herself as someone who isn’t merely out of fucks to give, but never possessed a single one in the first place, which is why her screaming and crying display in response to her co-hosts’ inquiries was so jarring.
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It was also just so painfully, basically Karen of her to be accused of racism and immediately claim victimhood. Osbourne speaks in the docuseries about carrying the stain of that accusation, but to right-wingers, that is increasingly a virtue, which perhaps why she signed on to deliver her message on a Fox platform in the first place.
Osbourne refers to that episode of The Talk as “the incident,” as if what happened was an atrocity too devastating to acknowledge with any specificity. She claims she was ambushed. She describes co-host (and IRL friend) Sheryl Underwood as “stabbing me in the back” and says that standard operating protocol (including receiving real-time producer notes in her earpiece) ceased during the discussion. Osbourne claims Talk showrunners said the decision to target her came from higher echelons of CBS, which Osbourne takes to mean that they were mad she supported someone who dared to speak negatively of the network’s prized royals interview. (To be fair, if Osbourne was set up to be humiliated by production, you can hardly fault her for speaking out.)
But Osbourne didn’t even try to understand where her fellow panelists were coming from. “Looking back, my commentary at The Talk was spot on,” she says in the series. Now, as she did then, Osbourne continues to reject the notion that any of them, including the Black women that she sat among, Underwood and Elaine Welteroth, may have had valuable insight. Osbourne briefly acknowledges her inability to understand what they’ve experienced, but she ultimately takes up Morgan’s baton of blaring that she’s not racist while dismissing the words of people of color. (Osbourne notes that Underwood and Welteroth were invited to participate in the doc but didn’t have the “balls” to do so.)
John McWhorter, the “woke racism”-huckster linguist, joins to argue that people were unnecessarily mean to Osbourne. Isn’t that terrible? At one point Osbourne bemoans that people wanted her to “talk about my white privilege. They know nothing about how I grew up. They know nothing about my life.” This, despite appearing on multiple seasons of reality television (which showed plenty of privilege). “Antiracism is dangerous to relationships,” warns McWhorter, bizarrely.
Osbourne’s victim act strains under the revelation that CBS asked her to apologize for things she said, but she refused. (She pegs this to reports that emerged about her saying homophobic things to her one-time co-panelist Sara Gilbert. Osbourne contends that saying “lick lick lick” to her gay co-worker was a private joke between them.) “I got canceled from The Talk and I didn’t grovel and beg CBS that I would be a good girl and I would go and be educated on the way I should conduct myself now on TV. It’s like, fuck you,” she explains. But she also says she was fired. Surely, this brassy all-business woman realizes that when you say “fuck you” to a network, that’s powerful because of the potential consequences of doing so. But Osbourne seems to have expected everyone to capitulate to her and because they didn’t, she was a “lamb to the slaughter.” A lamb to the slaughter, perhaps, but she butchered her own chop in the name of virtue. Morgan similarly refused to apologize for his behavior and then also claimed he was fired.
“Do you honestly believe that that’s the first ‘fuck you’ or ‘go fuck yourself’ that they’ve ever heard at CBS?” she says. “And they fire me because of that and they say there was no racism but yes, I said, ‘Lick lick lick your pussy,’ to Sara.”
She does have a point when she goes on to say, “My behavior was not within the codes of CBS but yet the head of the company [Les Moonves] could have two women on the payroll to suck his dick for years? Fucking abuse his position.”
“So how does this make sense?” asks her son (and fellow executive producer) Jack Osbourne. “You can get ganged up on on live television and when you go to defend yourself against accusations, you get fired for creating a hostile work environment? This is the world we live in today and it’s terrifying.” Elsewhere, Jack explains that his mother “loves being famous,” and the self-entitlement that motivates the attainment of (and clinging to) fame at any cost is a much greater part of the world we live in today. It’s terrifying.
Throughout the series, you get the sense that Osbourne feels she is above reproach; that when she talks, everyone else listens. This kind of bluster may have been crucial in managing her husband’s career, which is also detailed in the show. And Sharon truly did help Ozzy become an icon: She helped create that massively successful Ozzfest and she had the wherewithal to sign on for The Osbournes, a boundary-breaking show that set the template for so much reality TV that would come after. No one can take these things away from her. But the idea that her cultural position is unassailable, that she can just say whatever and face no consequences, is lodged in her mind. Any threat to it is portrayed as an effrontery to the operation of the universe.
She continues to talk a big game despite her “canceled” status. “If you decide you like me that’s lovely and if you don’t, fuck you,” she says during the final moments of To Hell and Back. But she betrays this by putting out content that is so intellectually undercooked, so wishy-washy in its mode of public discourse, and so clearly in service of winning her back public favor.