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ANOTHER YEAR WITH THE OSBOURNES

Ozzy is throwing knives, trying yoga and listening to poetry to relieve the stress. Jack is surfing and spraying water at sightseers at the door of the family's home. Kelly is launching her singing career. And Sharon is going to chemotherapy treatments to battle her colon cancer.

A year after taking the cable world by storm with a documentary comedy/reality series about their bizarre but loving family life, "The Osbournes" (10:30 tonight, MTV) is back with original episodes that show how success and illness have changed their lives.

The question of the season is: Will success and heartache spoil "The Osbournes"?

The novelty of seeing the ironies surrounding the way this 53-year-old British heavy metal star, his wife and two of his kids behave is over now that expletive-deleted reality has truly set in.

The series arrived with little fanfare last season, showing that oddball Ozzy was putty in his wife's hands. His anti-drug lectures to his uncontrollable kids were all the more amusing.

This season arrives with a whirlwind publicity tour of television interviews, print interviews and cable specials. The family's celebrity status and the reality of Sharon's battle with colon cancer may make it a bit harder for some people to laugh at the craziness surrounding the family. But in an odd way, those problems also make it easier to relate to this family.

Sharon has already used a highly rated forum provided by Barbara Walters to talk about how her cancer has changed the family and frightened Ozzy. Following that interview, it feels almost voyeuristic to see how difficult it is for him to deal with his wife's illness in next week's second episode.

And watching the dogs soil the rugs in their house, Ozzy fiddle with the cable remote control and everyone get bleeped doesn't have the same amusement quality it did a year ago.

The family became such hot items last year that elements of tonight's episode -- the Osbournes trip to the White House correspondents' dinner with Greta Van Susteren, Kelly's appearance on an MTV awards show -- have already aired on television. The behind the scenes stuff adds little, other than to show us the company they are keeping. It also is a reminder that they are now playing the celebrity Osbournes instead of the little-known Osbournes.

Sharon's prophetic fear at the end of the first episode that all the success the family has experienced will come crashing down has less impact because we know where she is headed.

She told Walters how difficult it was to do this season of episodes and even said she regretted doing them. Perhaps that's why the first two shows seem slightly less joyful and entertaining than last year's batch.

Still, they have their delicious moments. When Sharon suggests before the White House dinner that Ozzy looks like Harrison Ford, he responds that he looks more like Glenn Close. Then there's the ironic sight of Ozzy, who symbolizes darkness, impatiently getting up a few times while a recovering alcoholic talks about how Jesus has changed her life. It's hard to imagine anything funnier or more ironic than the thought of a born-again Ozzy.

But just as often, it is harder to laugh with or at Ozzy, who clearly is struggling with his wife's illness. Next week's episode tackles Sharon's cancer head on, with Sharon illustrating that laughter is the best medicine and Ozzy and the children expressing their fears. MTV says the episode, in which Sharon talks from bed a few times, isn't indicative of the rest of the 10-episode season.

Life obviously goes on. Ozzy tries to beat his drinking habit, Jack cracks his elbow jumping from a dock into the water and Sharon exhibits her terrific sense of humor frequently, even during chemo.

"They should put us all in a hospital ward," says Sharon, who is laughing about the family's calamities.

One supposes if she can laugh, we can laugh. Even if sometimes, it just doesn't seem as right or as funny as it did last year.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

Western New York obviously is "Bachelor" country. The two-hour season finale of the ABC reality series was a huge local hit, getting a 19.1 rating that peaked with a 21.3 at the end when Aaron Buerge selected 27-year-old grade school psychologist Helene and asked her to marry him. You may recall that Buffalo's Gwen Gioia, who made it to the final three, had predicted that Helene would be the one.

We all wish Aaron and Helene well, but I must say it does seem to be more than a little odd that he would propose to someone moments after telling the audience how difficult it was for him to pick between Helene and the show's bridesmaid, Brooke. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo, will you marry me?

Buffalo native Katherine Napierala, a 1977 graduate of Maryvale High School who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., appears on Wednesday's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" (7 p.m., Channel 2).

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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