Non-Geek TV From The Geek Perspective: Six Feet Under

Gabbing Geek What We're Watching

There’s a lot of TV out there, and my wife binge-watches stuff, many times that she’s seen before, but if she likes it, who cares?

This week, I’m covering Six Feet Under.

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What’s the premise?

Set at a family-owned funeral home, the show is about the trials and tribulations of the Fisher family after the family patriarch Nathaniel Sr. is killed in a freak bus accident.  Survived by his wife, two sons, and teenage daughter, the various members of the family have various emotional issues to work through to become happier people while working in a place where death is the main source of income.

What’s the appeal?

At the time of the show’s creation, writer/producer Alan Ball was best known for writing the screenplay for Best Picture winner American Beauty.  He was actually given free reign to make the characters a heck of a lot more screwed up and dark than he would have thought, which actually made the show stand out more.  Plus, he hadn’t created True Blood yet, so no one knew how campy his work could be.

Anything stand out?

Quite a lot, actually.  Though the series probably ran a year or two too long, the acting and writing stayed strong for the most part.  Most episodes open with a random character dying, often a stranger whose funeral arrangements will be taken care of by the Fishers.  The deaths can be highly creative, and often act as a bait-and-switch, as in you’re led to believe one character will die but it’ll be someone else, maybe sitting in the background, instead.  Sometimes the death is tragic (a baby dying of SIDS as shot through the baby’s eyes), or darkly comedic (a man reaching from his car for the morning newspaper accidentally falls out and is run over by his own SUV), or just a quick thing (an old man on a bus for elderly tourists just dies in his seat).

That actually led to some fun funeral scenes, since the Fishers served, among others, funerals for porn stars, bikers, and a small neighborhood cult.

The main cast is actually pretty strong.  It’s hard to say which one is the strongest, but Michael C. Hall’s middle son David may take the cake as an initially closeted gay man trying to find a way out of the closet, even with help from his on-again, off-again boyfriend Keith.  Considering this man was also Dexter Morgan, it shows quite a bit of range on the part of Hall.

The series also managed to find quality guest stars.  One scene showed Fisher matriarch Ruth, played by Frances Conroy, sitting around a table talking with her new husband, best friend, and sister.  Those three were played by James Cromwell, Kathy Bates, and Patricia Clarkson, and while watching I realized Conroy was sharing a scene with three Academy Award nominees.

Fantasy also played a strong roll in the show.  Each of the Fishers would sporadically see the dead husband and father Nathaniel Sr., as played by the charming Richard Jenkins.  Each Fisher saw him differently, usually in a somber black suit, though daughter Claire would see him dressed in gaudy resort wear.  Other times they’d take advice from the corpses in the basement, or imagine how they’d like to react in given situations.

The show opening with a death doesn’t hold for the final episode, which opens with the birth of a Fisher grandchild, and the final scene, a montage depicting the deaths of each of the main characters over time, is rightfully considered one of the finest closing scenes of any ongoing TV show.

Any downsides?

Though most of the Fishers grow, change, and become better and more well-rounded people over time, that does not hold true for Peter Krause’s estranged oldest son Nate.  He doesn’t change much at all, and while the initial impression he gives off when he returns from traveling all over is one of worldly cool, over time (or with a second viewing) it becomes clear he’s more of a know-it-all asshole with a penchant for shirking responsibility as much as possible.  Even his prickly on-again, off-again, psychoanalytical genius eventual wife Brenda actually takes steps to be a better person by the time the show ends, but he’s the same jerk we met in the pilot.

Likewise, Freddy Rodriguez’s assistant-turned-business partner Frederico suffers from the need to keep him doing things.  As such, I often find myself being completely uninterested in his domestic problems and complaints about not being treated as an equal by the others.  Rodriguez is fine enough in the role, but the stuff he is given to do isn’t very interesting compared to the rest of the cast.

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