Three or four years ago, a biopic on the Osmonds might’ve generated snickers rather than serious consideration from a TV exec. Clearly the omnipresence of behind-the-scenes stories, from VH1’s “Behind the Music” to the two-part Beach Boys movie, have made virtually every band potential fodder for primetime treatment. Difference now, vs. the mid-’90s, is that audiences are tainted — or is it more informed? — and have come to expect the salacious tales, the exposing of inner demons and all seven deadly sins. “Inside the Osmonds” is a big reminder that while the rock ‘n’ roll highway to hell was driven on by every act, there were teen stars who said no to casual sex and respected their parents.
Then again, it doesn’t deliver much in the drama department, which may mean a dwindling audience over the course of two hours until only the puppy lovers of yore are tuned in. And even they may well be turned off by the sickeningly sentimental conclusion of the telepic. It’s one thing to embrace family when everything around you is tumbling; it’s quite another when an entourage of 11 goes for a group hug after discovering their $80 million empire is bankrupt.
The ho-hum hokum of the Osmonds starts in 1970, when they have settled in Los Angeles after escaping their Utah origins and the confines of “The Andy Williams Show,” on which some Osmonds were a featured barbershop quartet.
After a disastrous concert before an adult crowd in California, Mike Curb (Colin Ferguson) approaches the Osmond Brothers, as they are known, with the offer of a change in music and direction. They follow Curb to the famed Mussel Shoals Studios in Alabama and record under the tutelage of Rick Hall (Adrian Hough). With Merrill (Ryan Golden Kirkpatrick) leading the group, the Osmonds shoot immediately to the top with hits such as “One Bad Apple” and “Yo-Yo.”
The Osmonds, who address patriarch George (Bruce McGill) as “father” and “sir,” are subjected to brutal treatment from the critics (overstated for some dramatic effect), but they hang gold records like snapshots.
Band rises and falls with no one leaving, no one dipping into drugs and no sex scandals. Donny becomes a star with Marie and the brothers fade into the background, handling producer duties and the occasional oddball skit. The big drama comes when Donny tires of playing the fool and Marie worries about whether she’s too fat for TV.
Acting throughout is serviceable and the haircuts are top-notch. Matt Dorff’s script, however, has everyone kowtowing to Dad and eldest son Alan (Joel Berti), which stymies confrontation and its consequences. Script also embellishes a few facts — 12 gold records before “Sweet and Innocent”? A 60 share for “Donny & Marie”? Come now. Show avoids the crazier side of Donny & Marie’s careers by leapfrogging from the 1980 cancellation of their show to a recent reunion gig with the family.
Sets and set decoration are particularly strong, evoking the 1970s at every turn far better than the tired use of newsreel clips that establish the time frame.