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TV Review: Six Feet Under - Season One 
7th-Jun-2007 11:51 pm
Six Feet Under
The joker did it.

Six Feet Under Season One

Starring: Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, Mathew St. Patrick, Freddy Rodríguez, Rachel Griffiths

Series Creator: Alan Ball

After years of suspecting that this was a show that we'd enjoy, and several months of having the first set borrowed from a friend sitting on our shelf, we finally got around to watching the first season. Now that I've seen it, on one hand, I'm forced to wonder why we waiting so long, on the other, I'm happy to know that the rest of the series is just waiting for us to watch, instead of having to suffer through HBO's interminable hiatus breaks.

You want to know how good this show is? About halfway through the pilot, we were already addressing the characters by their names as though they were familiar. After two episodes, I went ahead and ordered the complete series. After about four days, the 13 episodes that make up the season were devoured, leaving us saddened that we had to wait for the next season.

Six Feet Under is disgustingly good. There were times when I was watching it when I couldn't believe something of this quality actually made it to television, even though I'm aware of the high standards set by other HBO series. Everything about it is excellent, from the acting, to the scripting, to the surrealist filming. I fell in love with the cast quickly, and was impressed by the quirky filming the show uses to reveal the inner thoughts of the characters.

The show follows the owners of the Fisher and Sons Funeral Home, a family-run business with the family's house attached to the funeral home. When the family patriarch Nathaniel (Richard Jenkins) dies, its up to his sons to carry on the business. The problem is that his eldest son Nate (Peter Krause) has spent his whole life running away from the family and the family business, and uptight younger son David (Michael C. Hall) isn't sure he wants to continue to sacrifice his own desires for the business. The show deals with the realities of death and mourning in a lot of ways, dabbling in the absurd, the clinical, and the melodrama of death. Nate has always feared the dead bodies in his family's basement mortuary, while David has dealt with them all his life. Restorative artist Rico (Freddy Rodríguez) sees the bodies as chances to work on his craft, while mom Ruth (Frances Conroy) deals with them matter of factly as the business she's been dealing with for years.

Death and funerals are what the show is about, giving an episodic structure that allows them to deal with new customers each episode. But at its core, Six Feet Under gets past the macabre nature of the show and reveals itself to be a true family drama. In some ways, its just another workplace show, just with an occupation not normally seen on TV. Just as medical dramas show doctors dealing with patients or cop shows show detectives investigating cases, Six Feet Under has bodies to embalm and funerals to arrange. It makes it interesting, but its not the reason to keep tuning in.

The real reason to watch is the phenomenal character development of the show. Every character that gets significant time on the show (which would include the entire main cast, plus several recurring characters) is a fully developed character, layered with rich context and resonance. I love each and every one of these characters, and truly care about their struggles. Nate is a charismatic figure, an aging Peter Pan trying to finally grow up, both in his acceptance of the family business and in his new relationship with Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). Brenda Chenowith is one of the best female characters I've seen on TV ever. Tough, complicated, brash, and vulnerable all at once, Griffiths is fantastic in the role, with a presence and non-traditional beauty that you don't usually see in Hollywood. Lauren Ambrose has a tough job as the youngest person on the show by far. Her Claire could easily become annoying, especially when her problems are juxtaposed with the more adult concerns of the cast, but Ambrose is able to toe the line between teenage rebellion and annoyance to give a sympathetic character. Frances Conroy is phenomenal as the recently-widowed Ruth Fisher, again in a role you simply don't see for women on television, especially not women her age.

The biggest stand out in a cast of stand outs is Michael C. Hall as David. He first appears in the pilot as the boring, straight-laced control freak, who seems like he'll easily be overshadowed by Krause's charm. But Hall brings a bubbling intensity under the stoic exterior of David, one that bursts through its containment as the season moves on. His arc for the season is absolutely fascinating, beginning with his struggles to meet his boyfriend Keith's (Mathew St. Patrick) expectations that conflict with his own inner struggle over his homosexuality and his Christian beliefs. I've said this before, but I have to keep saying it, you just don't see characters like him on television. A completely uncompromising portrayal of homosexuality without any sensationalism or the minstrel show-type presentation of other shows that have featured gay characters, David's struggle to come to terms with who he is and what that means for those around him never ceased to be interesting or affecting.

Mixed in with all the phenomenal performances, quirky work settings, family issues, and surrealist dream sequences is some great black humour, mature storytelling, and the most overwhelmingly emotional 13 episodes of television I've ever seen. Since every episode features someone dealing with grief, the show is naturally emotional, and doesn't shy away from that. As with other shows, the characters often get clients that mirror issues they're dealing with themselves. Rico is forced to work on a three-month-old SIDS victim just as his wife (Justina Machado) is expecting their second child, David works on a hate crime victim beaten to death for being gay. The resonance built from these moments is incredibly powerful, making the show a constant catharsis for who watch.

If the abundance of superlatives I've thrown at this show haven't made it clear, I absolutely loved this season. Completely blew me away. Easily one of the finest seasons of television I've ever seen.

5/5

Related:
Big Love - Season One
Once and Again - Season One
Sports Night - Complete Series
Comments 
8th-Jun-2007 06:15 am (UTC)
We just started watching the first season this weak as well. I bought the complete set in December, but we've been afraid of it. Dylan and I have seen everything up til the premiere of the last season. That episode was so depressing that we never watched the rest and then when things got spoiled for me I regretted not finishing it.

It's such a beautiful show, but there is so much that is hard to watch. Jeremy Sisto alone makes me crazy.
8th-Jun-2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
I agree, Billy is hard to watch. But, he's a really good character to add real life drama to the proceedings that is still naturalistic and within the confines of the show.

One character that I was really impressed with was Tracy Blair, who started off so annoying then quickly became human and tragic. I was with David when he started to tell her off, but her reaction was so touching that I immediately sympathised with her.
8th-Jun-2007 07:50 am (UTC)
It's always been one of those shows I mean to watch. Maybe now I actually will.
8th-Jun-2007 03:19 pm (UTC)
The summer is a good time to catch up on stuff like this (unless they still show new episodes of stuff during the summer down under. Do they?)
8th-Jun-2007 04:39 pm (UTC)
It's never good to watch series on TV down here. They show stuff out of order and whatnot. I much prefer to download things and watch them at my leisure.
8th-Jun-2007 04:42 pm (UTC)
Well that settles it. I'm not moving to Australia.
8th-Jun-2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
But we've got kangaroos! And lots of red dirt!
9th-Jun-2007 04:17 am (UTC)
You should really push the Midnight Oil.
8th-Jun-2007 01:24 pm (UTC)
This show is one of the best ever. Absolutely loved it from start to finish and has one of my favorite series finales of all time.
8th-Jun-2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
Good to know that it stays strong.
8th-Jun-2007 03:11 pm (UTC)
Definitely agree with you here. Haven't seen all of Season 5 though. I almost don't want to, because then it'll be over...
8th-Jun-2007 04:26 pm (UTC)
Such a beautiful, heart-wrenching show. I think I've seen up to season 4. I need to NetFlix the rest...

Have you seen Dexter? Michael C. Hall is brilliant.
8th-Jun-2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
Just started watching Dexter. It's getting re-run in full right now, with an episode a night. We watched the pilot and thought it was pretty cool, and now have four episodes on our DVR to catch up on. I should have the season watched by the end of the month.
8th-Jun-2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
I'm looking forward to your review! It's not any more graphic than, say, CSI, but man, does it get creepy during the last couple of episodes.
9th-Jun-2007 02:21 am (UTC)
The worse part about Dexter for me... is watching the opening credits. That is positively the creepiest part of the show.
9th-Jun-2007 02:25 am (UTC)
There is one episode near the end that refers -- very graphically -- of how Dexter was found by his father.

It freaked me out more than a little.
8th-Jun-2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
I'm so excited for you! I wish I could go back and rewatch it all for the first time. You'll find that it just keeps getting better (and worse). I'm rarely moved to tears by anything on film, let alone television but this series did that several times. All I have to do is think about particular episodes and I start clamming up.

~j
8th-Jun-2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
I don't cry at movies or TV at all. It's just not a physical response I have (crying). But... I came awfully close to being moved to tears a few times while watching. David's speech at the church was really moving, as was Rico's reaction to the baby's funeral.
8th-Jun-2007 05:15 pm (UTC)
You pointed out that you were calling the characters by name by the middle of the Pilot episode. I think it has something to do with that. The character development is so rich and you see them in situations you don't normally get to see TV/Film characters in. The level of intimacy is such that the characters really start to feel like people you know and love (or hate).

~j
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