Thursday, June 26, 2008


Six Feet Under

Yet another HBO show on my list, from its golden era of programming. If they were churning out stuff this quality today, I'd still be dropping my $20 a month on that shit.

What occurs to me about this show, as well as others on HBO, is that I tried to watch it once during its first season because it was getting great reviews. I think I came into the middle of a season, about 15 minutes into the episode, and gave it 20 minutes. I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about, and I chalked it up to being not my cup of tea.

Two years later, my friend Mandy happened to be over as I was flipping through channels. She saw Six Feet Under on the channel guide and insisted I watch it. She told me the backstory, made me watch a whole episode, and that was it. I never missed another one, and I went back and rented the first two seasons to catch up.

To be fair, the third season (where I came in) was the series' pinnacle, so it was easy to get hooked. Nate's wife goes missing, and he responds by screwing everything that moves, leaving his newborn son with his unhinged mother....

You know what? Trying to explain the plot of the show is the exact thing that made me wary of it in the first place. The great thing about the show is its tone, its characters, its nuance, and its fantastic cast of actors. The plots sound more than a tad melodramatic when you rehash them (particularly the disappointing season four). The basic premise of the show is a family who loses its father in the pilot ep (although he recurs frequently as a spirit) and now must run the funeral home without him. Oh yeah, and they also live in the upstairs part of the home, with the dead bodies either in the basement being prepped or on the main floor being memorialized.

But the self-destruction Peter Krause brought to the character of Nate, the prodigal son, is what sticks with you. As does the confusion of his brother, religious-but-gay David, played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall, now onto great things with Dexter on Showtime. As does the emotionally naked work of Lauren Ambrose as Clare, the little sister trying to figure out her role in the family.

I literally could write 500 words on these and all the other fantastic characters on Under, but it would bore anyone unfamiliar with the show. I will say if you're a fan of The Office, you owe it to yourself to see the character arc of Rainn Wilson as an extremely awkward intern mortician, aspiring to be mother Ruth's love interest- sort of. You can see the embryo of Dwight Schrute germinating before your very eyes.

The show's lasting legacy will be its treatment of death. There has never been a television show that has dealt with the loss of life and all the emotions it brings with it more head-on than Six Feet Under. It shows how death can be tragic, deserved, cathartic, unfair, absurd, and even hilarious. Each hour begins with someone kicking the bucket. My favorite was the Jehovah's Witness who saw a bunch of inflatable sex dolls flying in the air, assumed it was rapture, and let go of the steering wheel of her car, resulting in her doom. Or perhaps it was her salvation. Who's to know in the end?

Then there's the finale. OH...MY...GOD. I probably bumped this show up four or five spots because it had the single best ending of any show I've ever seen. If you asked me for the most compelling, thrilling, emotional five minutes of television I've had the priviledge to witness, it would be the last five minutes of Six Feet Under's series finale at the tail end of season five. There has never been a finale that wrapped up with such heartbreaking beauty, such sublime finality as Six Feet Under did.

Here's how great it is: I kept it on my Tivo for about a year, during which time I probably watched the ending 40 times. I used to come home tipsy from the bars and insist on watching it two or three times before I went to bed. It is the perfect wrap-up of an oustanding run, so great that it almost completely makes up for the weaknesses of its uneven last two seasons. I can distinctly remember watching it with Eileen on a Sunday evening, and both of us being nearly speechless for the next 20-30 minutes; such was the breathtaking intensity of how neatly the show culminated its run.

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